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The Oakmonitor

Rainforest Cafe: A Crumbling Dynasty

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Rainforest Cafe, what is it? Is it art that belongs in the Louvre? A wonderful experience full of joy and happiness? Or is it something much more sinister? Well my friend, in this article, we discuss the past, present, and future of the Rainforest Cafe. You may be asking yourself, “How could these two bozos write about a dying restaurant franchise?” Well, wouldn’t you like to know my dear reader? It’s quite an expansive topic, that reaches many corners of society.

Truth is, it was a fun part of our childhood, and if you don’t know about Rainforest Cafe you better stick around and find out about the finest animatronic-filled restaurant with, in all honestly, okay food (I’m sorry). It all started in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota when Landry’s Inc. opened the jungle-themed restaurant which soon evolved into multiple iconic locations around the country, including one at Burlington Mall -which was in the hit movie Paul Blart Mall Cop- which has now sadly closed back in 2016.

“Rainforest Cafe”, it’s such a genius, befitting title, that only a thinker with the mind of Plato could think of. This genius just happened to be a young man by the name of Steven Schussler. In the eventful year of 1994, among things like Nelson Mandela’s presidential victory in South Africa, the Northridge Earthquake of California, NAFTA, and Kurt Cobain’s death, Mr. Schussler managed to create one of the greatest, and most iconic restaurant franchises in modern American history.

They are all designed to have a jungle look to them with fake trees and vines throughout the restaurant. All the locations also have their gift shops where you can buy all sorts of merch about their character that’s right they have characters. Each location has multiple animatronics that are very impressive. The sound atmosphere is also filled with animal noises that make feel more authentic. Most locations come with massive fish tanks filled with coral and other aquatic life. They also come with large wishing fountains that feature a statue with a sign that says “Save the Rainforest.”. 

This restaurant is mortifying for small children. One of the main reasons for this is the recurring thunderstorms. Those thunderstorms would happen every so often, and oh my, were they loud. To go back to the impressive sound design of this wonderful franchise, during the thunderstorms, the lights dimmed and the animatronic animals would start to freak out and make loud noises, perfect for kids who have sensitive hearing. Now that I think about it, this restaurant was horrifying when I was a wee little child. I remember not wanting to enter because of the loud noises and the animatronics outside. After going back to the fine establishment known as “Rainforest Cafe” several years later when in Florida, I’m happy that I could go back and enjoy it.

Unlike my cowriter, I enjoyed it when the animals would go crazy because to me it was cool. After all, I was really into animals. The animatronics looked pretty real and moved very accurately. There was a giant Crocodile at the opening, a Gorilla, an elephant, a jaguar, chimps, pythons, and big butterflies. All of these were awesome to me and other kids. While doing research we also found out that the characters have names, they are known as the Wild Brunch. 

Alright, this fiendish brunch of animal delinquents is all over the place in the restaurant. The bigger animals have their own animatronics and the smaller ones are on the menus and memorabilia. The mascots are Cha-Cha the tree frog, Ozzy the orangutan, Rio the macaw, Nile the crocodile, Tuki the elephant, Bamba the gorilla, Iggy the iguana, and Maya the jaguar. They are all important members of the restaurant’s aesthetic and identity.

So I know what you are thinking, how did this awesome place start…

Crumbling? Well, over the years the locations have been slowly closing for various reasons. With the pandemic, the closer rate increased causing more locations to give up their lease. There are now only 23 locations remaining in the world, 16 of which are in the United States. The reasons why Rainforest Cafes are closing are never directly stated, but you can draw some conclusions, like how the prices are very expensive for food that isn’t the greatest or how it’s really for kids and they won’t be going all the time they don’t have money or cars, so duh. 

To cap off the tragic tale of Rainforest Cafe, we need to talk about its most iconic and frequent character, the guardian of the gift shop, the tree of life herself, Tracy Tree. I know what you’re thinking, “How could an animal-centered restaurant be reigned over by a talking tree? Trees don’t talk, what a bunch of nonsense.” But you fail to realize, that the Rainforest Cafe isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a magical experience. You should be basking in the presence of Tracy Tree. She is the OG tree, the first sapling, the originator of all things Rainforest Cafe. If there’s a mascot, it’s Tracy Tree. If there’s a constant in the many restaurants of Rainforest Cafe, it’s Tracy Tree. She’s placed right in the gift shop to terrify as many small children as possible. She’s also probably the most terrifying animatronic. Unlike the animals, which all look like animals, and don’t look human-like, Tracy is an anomaly. She’s tree-shaped, yes. But she also has a very human face, and she speaks fluent English, with many voice lines. In all honesty, that may be another reason for the restaurants losing business.

To wrap things up, Rainforest Cafe was a magical place as a child (and sometimes a terrifying one at that). It is something that everyone who grew up with it should cherish. The future of the restaurant chain is largely up to interpretation. Could they make a comeback? Or are they going to completely fail? Only time will tell, and time doesn’t wait for anyone.

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About the Contributors
Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy, Reporter
Patrick Roy is part of the class of 2024 at Oakmont Regional High School. This is his 1st year being part of The Oakmonitor. He also plays guitar in the school's Jazz Band. Patrick works at Hannaford as part of the produce department. In his free time, he enjoys birdwatching and talking about it with friends and family. Patrick also goes hiking and goes on walks in the woods. He likes to cook, and spend time with his family.
Brandon Theriault
Brandon Theriault, Reporter
Brandon Theriault is part of the class of 2024 at Oakmont Regional High School. This is his first year being part of The Oakmonitor. Brandon works at Gardner Ten Pins as a lane mechanic. In his free time, he likes to go swimming, workout, and watch movies. He enjoys the summer, playing video games, and traveling to new places. Brandon loves to spend time with his family, playing board games, and saving money. He is excited to learn more things while being a part of Oakmonitor. 

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