Let’s Read An Old Menu, featuring Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘n’ Fun, Richmond, VA, 1985

Welcome to Let’s Read An Old Menu! This is a somewhat irregular column in which I, your humble LibraryLass, look at restaurant, hotel, and lunch counter menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes things will be familiar, sometimes they’ll be weird. But one thing you can count on is that they’ll almost always have cottage cheese on the menu, and they’ll almost never actually explain what’s in anything.

The cover of the Bullwinkle's menu, featuring an illustration of Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Dudley Do-Right.

What’s for Lunch?

Pack your report cards, grab a free refill, and get ready for a fun time, kids, because we’re going to Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘n’ Fun, circa 1985! According to the menu I’m using was located in Richmond, VA at 8006 W. Broad Street Road, however during its brief heyday Bullwinkle’s could be found on both US coasts(primarily in California, the Carolinas, and Virginia) as well as having two locations in Alberta, Canada (one in Edmonton, one in Calgary.)

The exterior of an Indeterminate Bullwinkle's.
Based on the license plates, I think this location was in California, but the architecture closely resembles the façade of the building at the same address today. Could it be the same exterior?

Is the restaurant still there? If not, what can we find out about it?

The Richmond location of Bullwinkle’s is definitely not in operation anymore, but the franchise is still chugging along under the name of Bullwinkle’s Family Fun Center, operating one location each in California, Oregon, and Washington. According to the best information of Richmond locals on Reddit, this particular location only lasted a few years. It closed in 1985 according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, possibly after incurring moderate interior damage from a fire, and was replaced by a business called Journey’s by no later than 1987. Currently at that location stands what appears to be a plasma donation center. Grim.

The story of Bullwinkle’s Pizza begins in 1982, however for the sake of you kids these days who didn’t grow up with extensive reruns on Nickelodeon, a little background may be in order first. The restaurant is named after– and at least nominally themed to– Jay Ward’s groundbreaking animated series The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a comedy-adventure show that ran from 1959 to 1964. Despite its extremely choppy, unpolished animation, the series featured witty, self-referential writing that made it a favorite of adults and children alike and elevated producer Jay Ward to animation superstardom. Ward went on to produce several spinoffs, including Fractured Fairy Tales, The Adventures of Peabody and Mr. Sherman, Dudley Do-Right, George of the Jungle, and Underdog, and also designed the mascot for Quaker’s Captain Crunch, and influenced basically every comedy cartoon you’ve ever loved.

The dining room at an indeterminate Bullwinkle's.
The dining room, complete with someone’s baby sibling.

Anyway, in 1982, the first Bullwinkle’s restaurant opened in Santa Clara, CA. Expansion was rapid, as the ’80s and ’90s were a boom time for children’s-oriented pizza restaurants with such amenities as extensive arcades, play areas, and animatronic showrooms– Chuck E. Cheese’s is alive and well today, of course, Shakey’s Pizza manages to hang on regionally (though in much more restaurant-focused form) in Southern California and the Philippines, and you Millenials out there may remember such competitors as Showbiz Pizza, Club Disney, Major Magic’s All-Star Pizza Revue, Celebration Pizza, Tex Critter’s Pizza Jamboree, and Discovery Zone (and yes, all of those are real.) However by 2001 the bubble had burst and many, including Bullwinkle’s, went bankrupt. The Bullwinkle’s brand was purchased by a development company called the Wilson Group, who also owned a similar chain called Boomer’s. At the time Bullwinkle’s had only four locations still operating, but the merging with Boomer’s brought that number up to fifteen. Unfortunately most did not survive the Recession of 2008. The remaining three locations are more elaborate than the restaurant was in its heyday, featuring such attractions as go-karts, bowling alleys, bumper boats, batting cages, miniature golf, and even a handful of amusement rides– so much so that Wikipedia classifies all three locations as full-on amusement parks.

The main stage at an indeterminate Bullwinkle’s, featuring Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Natasha, Underdog, and Dudley Do-Right..
The main stage at an indeterminate Bullwinkle’s. Notice, from left to right Dudley Do-Right, Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Underdog. Some locations had a fountain show that alternated with the animatronics every half hour. Notice also Boris and Natasha lurking above the stage– from which the Pottsylvanian proto-Team Rocket heckled the heroes. At least one of the remaining locations, in Tukwila, WA, still has the animatronics of the dynamic duo and their nemeses. Elsewhere in the restaurant was a small “jail” set from which Snidely Whiplash taunted passers-by.

As for Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, and their pals, Jay Ward’s heirs have retained the rights to them and have generally worked in partnership with Classic Media to keep them in circulation for the last several decades, even as Classic Media became a subsidiary of Dreamworks Animation and Dreamworks became a subsidiary of Universal. This was a fortunate coincidence, as they had, a few years before, also licensed the characters for their theme parks, as they continue to do to this day. Most of the major characters have appeared in at least one film adaptation in the last few decades, with the best of these generally being considered to be Disney’s 1997 George of the Jungle starring Brendan Fraser as the well-meaning lord of the apes.

If you want a deeper look at the restaurant itself, here’s a promotional video from 1983 featuring a tour of the Santa Clara location, intended to sell franchisers on the restaurant’s concept. The prototype restaurant featured a number of characters that didn’t make it to the other locations. Scope the fountain show using a disco remix music from Star Wars– but not the disco remix you’re thinking of!

I also found audio of several of the songs from the original show. Here’s one of them, which I chose because it shows off most of the characters. Underdog is the saxophone player.

Peculiarly there don’t seem to have been any menu items or animatronic characters based on George of the Jungle characters.

Let’s Eat!

$1 in 1985=$2.83 in 2023

The first page of the menu, featuring Bullwinkle's "Famoose" Pizza, Dudle Do-Right's Done-right Pizza, Rocky's Remarkable Burgers, and Klondike Fried Chicken.
Almonds? Shrimp!?

The star of the show, unsurprisingly, was Bullwinkle’s Famoose Pizza, a stuffed deep-dish offering containing all the usual suspects for a Supreme pizza, plus pineapple and… shrimp?! Based on the exchange rate that means a medium of the house specialty or its more conventional sibling the Mother Lode was the equivalent of a whopping $28. The other item of note on this page is the Luau pizza, distinguished from the typical Hawaiian pie by the curious addition of sliced almonds. I like Hawaiian pizza, I think I’m going to have to try that next time I can. The Modern Bullwinkle’s offers a Hawaiian pizza too, but no indication whether they still put almonds on it. The other specialty pies, and all hamburgers apart from a basic hamburger or cheeseburger combo, are long gone.

The second page of the menu, featuring Underdog's Heroic Sandwiches, Snidely's Snacks, Sweet Polly's Self-Serve Salad Sideboard, Desserts With Character, and Beverages.

For those of you wondering, according to people who dined at Bullwinkle’s in their heyday, “Snowshoe fries” are what you would normally expect to see called waffle fries today. Hot dogs and grilled cheese are still available, no word if that comes with the ham or tomatoes of yore. The rest is gone, apart from chili. The modern menu is… pretty much what you’d expect. Lots of standard “Bar and grill” appetizers, the most basic pizza and fast food options, a handful of salads and desserts. Bet you the ice cream isn’t Haagen-Dazs anymore either. The “Bullwinkle Mousse” is a chocolate mousse, according to some old trademark filings I found, I would love more details on the other desserts. You can probably still get beer or coke, but I wouldn’t count on a wine cooler in 2023.

The back cover of this menu advertises Bullwinkle's as a venue for parties and events.
According to flyers I found during research, you could even hire Bullwinkle to come to an offsite venue for special events!

Regrettably I could not find a single photo, interior or exterior, that I could prove was of this particular location. The restaurant photos here were sourced from Showbizpizza.com, and were uploaded by one Calaway Park. The menu pics were sourced from /u/Festina_lente123 on the /r/VintageMenus subreddit.

Thank you all for reading. If you enjoyed this article, or if you enjoy Let’s Read An Old Menu in general, I encourage you to share it with your friends, and if possible to support my partner Lovely Bones and I through her Patreon.