The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (2023)

It can be hard to hear the daily specials over the storm, a loud and distracting production that happens every 17 minutes or so in a Rainforest Cafe. Lights flicker on and off to mimic lightning, an animatronic gorilla beats its chest and the sounds of elephants trumpeting overpower whatever your safari guide (that’s what the Rainforest Cafe calls waiters and waitresses) might be saying. While the exact rainstorm can differ from restaurant to restaurant—there are currently 27 Rainforest Cafes worldwide—the experience is designed to remain the same: casual mall dining in the middle of the rainforest.

Except, the experience has changed since Rainforest Cafe’s began in the mid-1990s, when they had fewer locations, but actual live animals on hand. It seemed like such a staple of the ‘90s, hitting culture at a moment when both malls and the rainforest cause reigned, that it’s easy to forget how bonkers it all was—parrot wranglers, erupting “volcanos”, the wishing well with the animatronic crocodile paired with themed dishes like “Rasta Pasta”.

Even celebrities embraced it. Jen Bertsch, a member of the original team who worked as an assistant manager at Mall of America’s Rainforest Cafe for five years, remembers when Michael Jackson paid the cafe a visit for a special charity lunch with kids from a local cancer center.

“He was mesmerized,” she says. “I remember him standing in front of the talking tree for like, 10 minutes, just standing there, staring at it, watching it.”

The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (1)

Decor at Rainforest Cafe in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Don Richards/CC BY 2.0)

It took a very determined man to create a dining chain, “eatertainment” unlike any other.

The original location, still standing although it recently changed floors, is located in Minnesota’s Mall of America. But the first Rainforest Cafe, at least its original concept, was born in founder Steven Schussler’s Minneapolis home. After selling basically everything he owned, the former advertising salesman covered his house in his restaurant pitch. “Artificial waterfalls tumbled down custom-made rock formations, animatronic crocodiles bobbed their heads, and speakers piped in the roar of a tropical thunderstorm,” wrote Fortune magazine in 1996. Schussler used 3,700 extension cords to power the 20 different sound systems, lights and fog pumps for this prototype.

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Also, animals. “Forty tropical birds, two 150-pound tortoises, a baboon, an iguana and a bevy of tropical fish housed in ten 300-gallon fish tanks,” Schussler writes in his memoir, It’s a Jungle In There, about his menagerie. A greenhouse laboratory he had installed on the roof not only housed a full bar and tables, but also real butterflies bred “to determine how long they would survive and whether they would fall in the food.”

His neighbors guessed he was running either “a temple for devil worship or a bordello,” wrote Orange Coast magazine in 1998. And his local power company decided he was growing marijuana, thanks to an exorbitant power bill: Schussler told Fortune his $2,000 electricity bill in October 1994 was the highest for any residence in Minnesota. It wasn’t long before the Drug Enforcement Agency showed up at his doorstep.

“Overall, it took me three years and almost $400,000 to get the house developed to the point where I felt comfortable showing it to potential investors,” Schussler writes in his memoir. Even then, it wasn’t easy: “I figured it would be like Field of Dreams: if I built it, people would come,” he said to Orange Coast Magazine. “But it certainly was not an overnight success. [Investors] couldn’t see the forest for the trees. They weren’t visionaries.”

The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (2)

Outside the Rainforest Cafe in San Francisco. (Photo: Douglas Neiner/CC BY 2.0)

But Schussler was. Eventually, as Schussler teetered on financial collapse, a gambling magnate named Lyle Berman, made rich by founding Minneapolis’ Grand Casinos, came by Schussler’s homemade jungle. After a few visits, the idea grew on him and he took a chance on the concept—investing $1.2 million dollars and becoming Rainforest Cafe’s first chairman and CEO.

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Lucky for Schussler and Berman, their home state already had the perfect place to open a rainforest-themed restaurant experience—live animals and all. Bloomington’s Mall of America, which had launched just a few years earlier, in 1992, was the largest shopping mall in the United States. The Rainforest Cafe would open its doors on February 3, 1994, and within a week the wait for a table was as much as three hours.

Jen Bertsch, who now works as a career coach, helped Schussler open that first Rainforest Cafe. She protested, but after a former co-worker told her to “just come out and see it,” she showed up and was blown away by the experience: “When I was walked through it, I felt like I was, all of a sudden, through the hole in Alice in Wonderland or something. [Diners] were shocked. They would stand there and go, ‘What in the heck is this place? What has happened here?’ People would wait in line to eat for 2 hours.”

The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (3)

Inside the Rainforest Cafe, complete with mechanical elephants, in San Francisco. (Photo: ChameleonsEye/shutterstock.com)

Each Cafe didn’t just have Safari Guides (waiters and waitress), Tour Guides (hosts and hostesses), Pathfinders (retail sales associates), Navigators (bartenders) and Safari Assistants (bussers), but they also needed curators—who took care of the location’s array of live animals – and facility operators—who took care of the location’s array of not-so-live animals.

Rick Peters, the director of operations for San Francisco’s 33,000-square-foot Rainforest Cafe in 2000, told SFGate that there was “an entire control room set up just to monitor the computers necessary to keep all the action in motion.”

“It’s not like if a sink is backed up, you can just call a plumber,” he said. “If a gorilla’s arm stops working, we need someone right here who can fix it immediately.”

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Debbie Goodrich, who also goes by The Parrot Lady, an educational alter ego, was one of the Rainforest Cafe’s early curators, working at the chain’s second location outside Chicago. She helped to not only take care of the restaurant’s in-house animals, but also to develop off-site school programming for the Rainforest Cafe. Goodrich and her team would bring along coupons: One free kid’s meal if you showed back up at the Rainforest Cafe. Education and marketing, in one fell swoop.

“It finally gave people in the animal world a good salary position,” she says. “We started having curator conferences. It became a very big deal.”

In the next few years, quite a few Rainforest Cafes would pop up across the United States, as its stock, which started at $6 a share at its initial public offering in April of 1995, went from $22 a share in October of the same year to about $50 in June of 1996, bringing in millions more in capital for further expansion. In that same year, a new Cafe opened at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida; a second opened at the Animal Kingdom in 1998.* By 1999, each location was making over $8 million a year—the most revenue per spot of any restaurant in the country. Finally in 2000, despite Schussler’s pleas (and “at a fire sale price,” as he writes in his book), Rainforest Cafe was sold to Landry’s Restaurants Inc., a company that also owns over 500 restaurant, hotel, casino and entertainment destinations, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and McCormick & Schmick’s. (They would also eventually buy Schussler’s follow-up theme restaurant concept, T-Rex Cafe. Yes, it’s Rainforest Cafe, but with dinosaurs.)

The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (4)

Inside the “hands-on prehistoric experience” of the T-Rex Cafe. (Photo: Serena/CC BY 2.0)

After the Landry sale, things changed: menu items, decor but most importantly, Schussler’s live birds, which cost each location $100,00 a year, were scrapped. His original vision had been killed—along with the jobs of many of the animal care specialist and curators. “Of course, I didn’t agree with Landry’s decision,” he writes. “I felt the marketing value of the birds alone justified their cost, but I was overruled.”

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Goodrich also remembers when the birds left the Rainforest Cafe: “To me, it’s dead [now]. It’s no longer Rainforest Cafe the way Steve saw it. Landry’s is great as far as their restaurant management and streamlining, [but] when they approached Rainforest Café with their animal element, they absolutely obliterated it in a very bad way. [The animals] were really what set Rainforest Café apart from [being] ‘just a theme restaurant’.”

(The only remaining Rainforest Cafe with live parrots is located in Downtown Disney in Anaheim, CA thanks to a contractual requirement in place before the Landry’s sale.)

The True Story of the Rainforest Cafe is Even Wilder Than You Thought (5)

A walkway in the Rainforest Cafe Las Vegas. (Photo: Rob Young/CC BY 2.0)

Rainforest Cafes now pepper the globe—from Atlantic City to Dubai—and a new location just opened in Jakarta. They all feature the “The Wild Bunch”, Rainforest-themed mascots including Cha! Cha! the red eye tree frog and Bamba the Gorilla. They will all feature an Earth-shattering thunderstorm every 17 minutes or so. They will all serve the signature Rainforest-themed dishes including “Rasta Pasta” (sautéed chicken, cavatappi pasta, walnut pesto, broccoli, red peppers, spinach, garlic Alfredo sauce) and the “Sparkling Volcano” (three wedge-shaped brownies propped up by vanilla ice cream and whipped topping on top, drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce).

While the infamous Sparkling Volcano used to come with a lit sparkler on top, these days the sparkler has been replaced by a wooden rod with an attached shiny ornament. Much like the robotic animals standing in for the real thing, it’s just not quite the same.

*Correction: This post previously stated that Animal Kingdom is part of Epcot. It is not.

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FAQs

Does it still rain in Rainforest Cafe? ›

2 – It's a Jungle Out There

Lush greenery, fish tanks, animatronic gorillas, elephants, monkeys, and more! Where else can you dine that has a rainstorm every 30 minutes? The lights flash representing lightning, you'll hear thunder, see rain, and the animals will go crazy with excitement!

Why did they get rid of Rainforest Cafe? ›

When Disney announced the closures of the Rainforest Cafe in 2018, along with the nearby AMC Theatre and ESPN Zone, the plan was to use that space to create a Disney-owned, 700-room hotel. But after a protracted conflict with the city of Anaheim over proposed tax subsidies, Disney decided to cancel the hotel project.

How many Rainforest Cafes are there in the world 2022? ›

While the exact rainstorm can differ from restaurant to restaurant—there are currently 27 Rainforest Cafes worldwide—the experience is designed to remain the same: casual mall dining in the middle of the rainforest.

How often does the storm happen at Rainforest Cafe? ›

How often does it Thunderstorm? There is a tropical thunderstorm every 22 minutes in the Rainforest Cafe. What is the favorite menu item? Depending on your taste buds the Rainforest Cafe restaurant menu will have a favorite menu item for you!

Why is it so rainy in the rainforest? ›

Rainforests and rainfall

Because a forest consists of a large number of trees, the volume of water released via transpiration can contribute to the formation of rain clouds, resulting in rainfall. Very large rainforests, like the Amazon, can drive rainfall over very large areas.

How many Rainforest Cafes Shut Down? ›

More than 30 restaurants have shut down since the late 1990s.

What is the Rainforest Cafe frog name? ›

Cha Cha - THE ADVENTUROUS AND BRAVE RED-EYED TREE FROG

Always the practical joker, Cha! Cha! likes to laugh and is a busy show off. 6 Rainforest Cafe figurines for $6.99!

Does Rainforest Cafe sing happy birthday? ›

After the kids finished their food, the waiter brought out our giant volcano cake... along with all the restaurant's staff singing "Happy Birthday".

Who owns the Rainforest? ›

Nine countries share the Amazon basin—most of the rainforest, 58.4%, is contained within the borders of Brazil. The other eight countries include Peru with 12.8%, Bolivia with 7.7%, Colombia with 7.1%, Venezuela with 6.1%, Guyana with 3.1%, Suriname with 2.5%, French Guiana with 1.4%, and Ecuador with 1%.

When was the first Rainforest Cafe? ›

Rainforest Cafe is a themed restaurant chain owned by Landry's, Inc. of Houston. It was founded by Steven Schussler. The first location opened in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, on February 3, 1994.

How many Rainforest Cafes are there in USA? ›

There are a total of 16 rainforestcafe locations in United States as of April 21, 2021 The state with the most number of Rainforest Cafe locations in the United States is Lake Buena Vista with 2 locations, which is 13% of all rainforestcafe locations in United States.

How much of the rainforest has been destroyed 2022? ›

New data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research shows that more than 3,980 square kilometers of the Amazon—an area five times the size of New York City—were cleared in the first six months of 2022, the highest figure in at least six years.

Is the Amazon rainforest still being cut down 2022? ›

In the first half of this year, deforestation claimed roughly 1,500 square miles of the Amazon rainforest, an area five times the size of New York City and the greatest loss since at least 2016, according to the Brazilian Space Agency.

What is the biggest rainforest in the world 2022? ›

The Amazon is the world's largest rainforest. It's home to more than 30 million people and one in ten known species on Earth. See some of this region's splendor in our new video.

How long does it take for a gap in the rainforest to fill in? ›

According to a study focusing on the Brazilian Atlantic forest, certain aspects can return surprisingly quickly – within 65 years. But for the landscape to truly regain its native identity takes a lot longer – up to 4000 years.

What type of weather does the rainforest experience? ›

Tropical rain forests are warm areas that receive a great deal of rainfall. Average temperatures range from 70-90 degrees F. Rainfall ranges from 60-200 inches per year. Relative humidity is typically 70% in the daytime and 95% at night.

What weather happens in the rainforest? ›

The average temperature in tropical rainforests ranges from 70 to 85°F (21 to 30°C). The environment is pretty wet in tropical rainforests, maintaining a high humidity of 77% to 88% year-round. The yearly rainfall ranges from 80 to 400 inches (200 to 1000 cm), and it can rain hard.

What came first rain or water? ›

The ocean formed billions of years ago.

Over vast periods of time, our primitive ocean formed. Water remained a gas until the Earth cooled below 212 degrees Fahrenheit . At this time, about 3.8 billion years ago, the water condensed into rain which filled the basins that we now know as our world ocean.

How do rainforests benefit the environment? ›

By absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing the oxygen that we depend on for our survival. The absorption of this CO2 also helps to stabilize the Earth's climate. Rainforests also help to maintain the world's water cycle by adding water to the atmosphere through the process of transpiration which creates clouds.

Can trees make rain? ›

Scientists have studied the connection between trees and rain in the Amazon before. A 2012 study found that plants help "seed" the atmosphere for rain by releasing tiny salt particles.

Is Rainforest Cafe loud? ›

Rainforest Café

Every 15 minutes or so, the restaurant comes alive with the sounds of animals bringing the noise level far above the normal roar.

Who owns the Rainforest Cafe in Niagara Falls? ›

The Rainforest Cafe Niagara Falls location is operated by Canadian Niagara Hotels; the Rainforest Cafe chain is owned by Landry's Restaurants Inc. and is one of the largest casual dining and entertainment companies.

What happens to the Rainforest Cafe San Francisco? ›

"The landlord opted not to renew our lease, resulting in the closure of our restaurant," Beitler said. "The Rainforest Cafe at Fisherman's Wharf closed its doors on Sunday, October 1st." Beitler said he hopes to find jobs at other Landry's restaurants for Rainforest employees who lost their jobs.

What does the Rainforest Cafe smell like? ›

A little floral, a tad citrusy, a Rainforest Cafe scent that almost certainly smells much nicer than a real rainforest does. "Part of the Rainforest Cafe concept is the five senses," says Ercu Ucan, the Minneapolis-based company's senior vice president for retail.

Where does the poison frog live in the rainforest? ›

Blue poison dart frogs are found in only a few isolated areas of rainforest in Suriname and northern Brazil, so were only discovered in 1969. They are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. They live under rocks and moss near streams, but can sometimes be seen high up in the surrounding trees.

Where does a red-eyed tree frog live in the rainforest? ›

Habitat. Red-eyed Tree Frogs inhabit the Neotropical rainforest of Central America, with minimal distribution in South America. Their range extends from Mexico to Panama, and then subsequently across an isolated patch in northern Colombia.

How much does it cost to sing Happy birthday on air? ›

"If you want to sing it at your home at a birthday party you don't have to pay anything, because that is a private performance," he said. "But if you want to use it in a television show, a movie, or a television commercial, you'll pay anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 for those rights."

What does Rainforest Cafe do for your birthday? ›

Our birthday packages include: A selection from our special Wild Bunch Birthday Bash Menu. Children's Menu Activity Book & Crayons. A Wild Safari Hat.

Does Disney parks do anything for birthdays? ›

Complimentary Birthday Button

Get birthday greetings from fellow Guests throughout the day with a magical birthday button! Each one is complimentary on your special day and can be found inside at City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland Park or at Guest Services in Disney California Adventure Park.

Who destroyed the rainforest? ›

Direct human causes of deforestation include logging, agriculture, cattle ranching, mining, oil extraction and dam-building.

Can the rainforest grow back? ›

Rainforest rebirth: Tropical forests, once destroyed, can rapidly regenerate. The world's tropical forests, which sequester vast amounts of carbon, are key to the fight against climate change.

What is the richest rainforest in the world? ›

The lowlands of Borneo are home to the richest rainforest in the world. The climate provides an ideal growing environment for approximately 10,000 species of plant (more than in the whole continent of Africa).

Do cat cafes exist in the US? ›

The United States has more than 125 cat cafes, and some of them serve more than coffee and cat cuddles.

Where are rain forests found? ›

Tropical rainforests are mainly located between the latitudes of 23.5°N (the Tropic of Cancer) and 23.5°S (the Tropic of Capricorn)—the tropics. Tropical rainforests are found in Central and South America, western and central Africa, western India, Southeast Asia, the island of New Guinea, and Australia.

Where is the only rainforest in the US? ›

El Yunque National Forest (Puerto Rico)

The only tropical rainforest managed by the U.S. Forest Service is El Yunque National Forest in northern Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S., and Puerto Ricans are American citizens).

Is Amazon forest still burning now? ›

Unfortunately, due to intentionally diminished enforcement of environmental laws under Bolsonaro as well as increasingly dry conditions due to the climate crisis, there are fires in the Amazon all year round now.

Is Amazon forest still burning? ›

Fire doesn't occur naturally in the Amazon, but is set deliberately by people in a pattern of intentional, often illegal, deforestation to clear the land for crops and cattle. But in 2020, a startling number of major fires (41%) burned in standing, living Amazon rainforest, where fires have not historically occurred.

How much of the Amazon has been destroyed 2022? ›

In a newly released report, MAAP estimates that 13.2% of the original Amazon forest biome has been lost due to deforestation and other causes. This equates to more than 85 million hectares (211 million acres), an area about one-tenth the size of the United States or China.

What will the Amazon rainforest look like in 2050? ›

Models suggest that by the year 2050, temperatures in the Amazon will increase by 2–3°C. At the same time, a decrease in rainfall during dry months will lead to widespread drying. There are serious consequences to these changes.

What will happen if the Amazon rainforest is gone? ›

Burning away the Amazon would condemn millions of living species to extinction and destroy their habitats.

How long will the rainforest last? ›

With the current rate of deforestation, the world's rainforests will be gone by 2100. The rainforest is home to more than half of all species on Earth.

What are the 3 types of rainforests? ›

The types of rainforest include: Tropical mangrove forests. Temperate rainforests. Seasonal rainforests.

Does it ever stop raining in the Amazon rainforest? ›

The Amazon Rainforest experiences rain showers year-round, it almost never stops. It is the only way the mighty jungle can keep its abundance of exceptional nature alive. The climate of the Amazon remains tropical and hot throughout all 365 days of the year.

How long is the wet season in the rainforest? ›

The rainy season tends to occur from March through to July, with August through December being extremely changeable. January to March are the driest months of the year.

Can you do Jungle Cruise in rain? ›

Though the ride vehicles are covered, the world-famous Jungle Cruise is also a brand-new adventure in the rain.

Does Jungle Cruise run in the rain? ›

Disney World rides that close when it rains

These include Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Liberty Belle Riverboat, Indy Speedway at Tomorrowland, Swiss Family Treehouse, and Astro Orbiter.

What will happen if the Amazon rainforest disappear one day? ›

The destruction and disappearance of the Amazon rainforest will lead to warmer temperatures, frequent floods, and long droughts; The gradual decrease in rainfall would increase the pest and infection and less water will minimize the resources of sowing and maintaining crops.

Who is destroying the Amazon rainforest? ›

Cattle Ranching

This activity is the largest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, accounting for around 80 percent of the destruction, and also the release of 340 million tons of carbon per year.

Why is it important to know when the dry season and the wet season are in our country? ›

We show that below-average rainfall in the dry season leads to reduced production of rice and corn, the country's most important staple crops. In the wet season, however, the effect of rainfall points in the opposite direction and above-average rainfall leads to poor harvests.

Why rainy season is important? ›

Rainy Season is Most Amazing Season of the Year

Apart from that, the season helps in replenishing the freshwater that revitalize the life on the planet. Also, it is important for all life forms on earth whether big or small. For the reason, rain supply a large amount of fresh water.

What happens if it rains the whole cruise? ›

Sorry, but there is no refund on a cruise for rainy days. Even if it pours during your entire trip, if the cruise still happens then you won't be refunded any money. (Trips entirely cancelled due to storms may be entitled to a refund.)

What happens if it rains all day at Disney World? ›

The show must go on, and even when it is rainy, Disney World is open. Now, of course if Disney does happen to close for a weather event (like a hurricane) they will issue refunds then. But, if it is just a rainy day at Disney, the parks will remain open and no rain checks or refunds will be given.

Can a 7 year old see Jungle Cruise? ›

Although Jungle Cruise is marketed as a family movie and features Emily Blunt as an excellent role model for young women, this isn't one for young children. Because of its frequent violence, some scary scenes and creepy characters, this movie is best suited to teenage and adult audiences.

Does Disney shut down for rain? ›

In general, Disney World is a 365 day a year operation. It never closes, even for rain, with basically one exception. Hurricanes. Even then it doesn't always close for hurricanes.

Will Disney close if it Thunderstorms? ›

So do the parks close? Yes and No. If there are thunder storms or lightning in the area (or it's actively pouring) they will close the attractions. If it's just cloudy or there is a light sprinkle but no lightning, they will keep them open.

Can you ride Jungle Cruise at night? ›

Jungle Cruise is great at night because it captures the exotic and mysterious Heart of Darkness foreboding feel that a cruise through the jungle should have, but juxtaposes the ride's normal wry and corny humor alongside that.

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