Back in the ‘90s, there was no thrill more potent than swinging the doors of a Planet Hollywood wide open, knowing that you were in for an overpriced burger eaten below movie artifacts like prop jackets or a big, almost-nude Sylvester Stallone mannequin. The excitement the chain generated at the time was so high that the whole enterprise seemed unstoppable. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Demi Moore, and Bruce Willis had all put money into the business. There were rumors that they might pop into one of its many locations at any time. Then, as Esquire explains in a profile of Planet Hollywood’s birth and prolonged march toward death, people just stopped coming to the restaurants.
Before it details the chain’s fall from grace, the article explains exactly how big Planet Hollywood used to be. Amidst the many, many names of the biggest ‘90s celebrities to visit the restaurant, Esquire describes location openings that came with lavish parties and bizarre sights like Steven Seagal greeting the crowds by riding up on an elephant or Whoopi Goldberg being “carried in like Cleopatra.” We learn that Nelson Mandela once ate at the Manhattan location with Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte—that Stevie Wonder would sometimes sing “happy birthday” along with servers when he was visiting the chain.
You may be wondering: How could an enterprise with this kind of raw celebrity power fail? Well, it turns out that the food sucked so bad that people stopped coming back after they’d already been once. The menu was never great, mostly because the people involved didn’t have a passion for food (though Schwarzenegger “wanted his mother’s strudel recipe” during early meetings). Stallone, apparently, never cared much, saying in 1992 that he’d be happy to have a meal in pill form because “I’m just not prone to chew a lot” and because “It doesn’t go with my personality.”
Unsurprisingly, this approach to its menu didn’t make the restaurant appealing in the long run. “The stock value plummeted, and people just weren’t going back to eat,” the article says. “In 1999, Los Angeles magazine reported that same-store sales—a critical factor in a restaurant’s long-term success—fell by 18 percent the previous year. And the food only seemed to be getting worse.” In 2000, Schwarzenegger sold his Planet Hollywood shares and by 2007 only Stallone and Willis still invested in the business (though a Stallone rep denies that he’s still involved these days.)
Now, what’s left of Planet Hollywood hangs on the flame-shirt’d shoulders of Guy Fieri’s culinary inventions and the hope that spin-off hotels and resorts will carry the company going forward.
For more on how it got to this point, read the rest of the article over at Esquire.
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