Planet of the Aches
A galaxy of stars converged on New York City’s West 57th Street on Oct. 21, 1991, for the opening of the first Planet Hollywood restaurant. High-testosterone celebrity backers Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis partied with guests Eddie Murphy, Glenn Close, Alec Baldwin, and Regis Philbin. Within eight years, there would be more than 80 Planets spanning the globe.
The restaurant — a combo of movie memorabilia, diner-quality grub, and overpriced merchandise — offered a new take on ”total entertainment.” The key: its star ”partners,” who received stock and options from the founders — chairman Keith Barish (producer of the film The Fugitive) and CEO Robert Earl — in exchange for promotional appearances.
Lower-testosterone stars such as Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Melanie Griffith soon joined the Planet corps and customers began arriving in droves. The success of Planet Hollywood helped spawn a host of other ”eatertainment” venues, including the Motown Cafe, the Fashion Cafe, and the Planet Hollywood-owned Official All-Star Cafe.
The next three years saw new locations opening at lightning speed until, finally, Planet Hollywood imploded. The culprits usually cited by the press and business analysts: overexpansion, mismanagement, and mediocre food. On Oct. 12, 1999, Planet Hollywood filed for bankruptcy, and in the reshuffling, Barish and Schwarzenegger left. Willis and Stallone remained. ”Bruce and Sylvester have gone above and beyond the call of duty,” says Earl. ”They’ve never diminished their efforts one bit [in] 10 years.”
In the restructuring, nearly 40 Planets were shuttered and new stars, including ‘N Sync and Shaquille O’Neal, were enlisted to help reinvigorate the celebrity ranks. ”Instead of chasing our customers as they got older,” says Earl, ”we went to a whole new group.” Last November, the New York branch relocated to Times Square and was taking advantage of its new location directly across from MTV’s TRL windows. Says Earl: ”We’re on camera all day, so that’s given us a shot in the arm.”
Until Sept. 11, that is. ”If we had been talking Sept. 10, I would have been buoyant,” says Earl. ”Now we are suffering again, and it has nothing to do with the brand this time — we’ve been substantially hit because we’re so umbilically linked to tourism.”
Still, Earl thinks the Planet can be saved. New openings are planned later this year: in Tokyo Disney and, in a major sign of optimism, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — even though the Planet Hollywood franchise in Cape Town, South Africa, was bombed in 1998, supposedly by members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. ”Planet Hollywood has been through a lot,” Earl sighs, ”[but]we’re very resilient.”