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25 Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza Hut Gallery

25 Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza Hut Gallery


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America’s largest pizza chain has quite a history

25 Things You Didn’t Know About Pizza Hut

Oh, Pizza Hut. America’s largest pizza chain is also one of its most dynamic, with wild menu items all over the world, various concepts that have come and gone, and an eagerness to embrace the most modern of technology. But before it became the ubiquitous chain it is today, it was just another small business founded by two guys with a dream. Here are 25 things you didn’t know about Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut’s beginnings were about as humble as you can imagine. College-age brothers Dan and Frank Carney borrowed $600 from their mother and opened a pizza restaurant near Wichita State University on May 31, 1958, at the suggestion of a local real estate agent who was looking to rent a former bar and convinced them that pizza would be a good concept. Neither brother had any restaurant experience, but they quickly got the hang of it. Business was soon booming. The first franchise opened in Topeka in 1959, and a later franchise in Aggieville, Kansas, became one of the first fast food restaurants to offer delivery, revolutionizing the industry and leading to even greater success, with 4,000 outlets in operation across the country by the time the Carney brothers sold the business to PepsiCo in 1977. They’re both still alive (and very wealthy); Frank Carney is ironically a major Papa John’s franchisee today.

Today, Pizza Hut is a subsidiary of Yum Brands, which also owns chains including Taco Bell and KFC, and there are nearly 17,000 locations worldwide. There have been several spinoffs introduced in recent years with marying success, including an upscale one called Pizza Hut Bistro, small storefronts called Pizza Hut Express that only sell a limited menu, and “Red Roof” stand-alone restaurants that have a full bar, a lunch buffet, a jukebox, and occasionally even an arcade.

Whether some of your best childhood memories take place in those old-school full-service Pizza Huts or your only experience with them has been some late-night greasy slices, there’s a lot we bet you didn’t know about this huge fast food chain. Read on for 25 unexpected facts about Pizza Hut.

The Carney Bothers Settled on “Pizza Hut” for an Interesting Reason

The sign that they purchased only had room for nine characters!

A Large Pizza Originally Cost $1.50

A small pizza would have only set you back 95 cents.

The First Pizza Hut Has Been Moved

The original building has been preserved, and is now located on the grounds of Wichita State University. A plaque on the building notes its historical importance.

The Carney Brothers’ Return on Investment Was Ludicrous

In 1977, the duo sold the company to PepsiCo for a whopping $300,000,000, equal to around $1.2 billion today.

The First International Pizza Hut Was Opened in Costa Rica

It was also one of the first American franchises to open in Iraq.

The “Red Roof” Pizza Huts Are Today a Rare Find

Sadly, the classic Red Roof Pizza Huts of the 1960s and ‘70s, with their beer, buffet, and jukeboxes, are going by the wayside. If you ever encounter one (or if you have one in your town) consider yourself lucky!

Football Coach Bill Parcells Was Once a Pizza Hut Manager

Parcells was so successful as manager that the franchise owner tried desperately to make him stay when he quit the job in order to take his first coaching gig, at a small Nebraska college. Parcells went on to become one of the greatest head coaches of all time.

There Was Once a Mascot Named “Pizza Pete”

Pete wore an apron, red neckerchief, and a chef’s hat. He was phased out by the end of the 1970s.

Ever Wanted a Pizza Hut Easy-Bake Oven?

In the 1970s, Pizza hut sold a small oven that baked tiny pizzas with a 60 watt light bulb.

You Can Still Find Them for Sale Occasionally

They occasionally pop up on eBay, but we can’t vouch for the quality of the pizza.

Some Huge Stars Have Appeared in Its Commercials

Stars that have appeared in its commercials included Elijah Wood…

Some Huge Stars Have Appeared in Its Commercials

…Ringo Starr and The Monkees...

Some Huge Stars Have Appeared in Its Commercials

It Launched Online Ordering in 1994

By collaborating with The Santa Cruz Operation (which, contrary to what its name might imply, isn’t an evil cabal), Pizza Hut launched PizzaNet in 1994, which let users order pizza over the then-fledgling internet.

And the Website Still Works!

You can visit the website here; no word on whether you can still use it to order a pizza, though!

It Delivered Pies to Space

Pizza Hut sent a pizza up on a rocket in 2001, and actually delivered an edible pie to the International Space Station!

And Once Advertised on a Rocket

Think advertising has gotten too over-the-top now? Well just remember 1999, when the company paid more than one million dollars to place a 30-foot advertisement on a rocket.

It Once Delivered Pizzas to the White House

Not quite as impressive as the International Space Station, but Pizza Hut delivered pizzas to the White House in 1989, when First Lady Barbara Bush decided to throw a pizza party.

There’s a Twitter Account Devoted to Former Pizza Hut Locations

Do you have a strange fascination with tracking down buildings that used to be a Pizza Hut? Then we suggest you follow @UTBAPH, which keeps track of just that.

It’s a Blog, Too

“Whatever their current purpose, we can always be reminded of the mediocre pizza that was once served in these establishments,” Used to Be a Pizza Hut’s description reads. “That, and those red plastic cups.”

It Is One of the World’s Largest Cheese Buyers

170,000 cows are needed to produce the 300 billion gallons of milk required to make the cheese that tops the world’s Pizza Hut pizzas.

The Company Goes Through More Than 300 Million Pounds of Cheese Annually

That’s three percent of all U.S. cheese production!

It Released a Pizza Hut Perfume in 2012

It started as just a joke, but the pizza-scented perfume (cologne?) was actually sold in a limited quantity.

It Sells Pizza Boxes That Double as Movie Projectors

Ever opened a pizza box only to be disappointed that it doesn’t double as a movie projector? Well if you live in Hong Kong, you can order a pizza box that you can affix your iPhone to. Thanks to a special lens in the box, it’ll project a movie onto the nearest wall. Cool, we guess?

A Woman Escaped a Hostage Situation by Ordering From Pizza Hut


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.


This podcast is over the history of Pizza Hut. The very first Pizza Hut stands on the Wichita State University’s campus. Moved there in 1986, it’s now a meeting place for students. This is not a guided tour. You can still learn about Pizza Hut’s history away from there. Maybe while eating some pizza.

Pizza Hut’s success relied on several people. The start, however mainly came from Daniel Carney, more often called Dan. Dan was born in 1931. While growing up in Wichita, Kansas his father repeatedly told his children to own a business if possible. His father, unhappy working for someone else, opened a grocery store with a friend. The grocery store became Carney’s Market. As expected with a small business, every kid including Dan worked at the grocery store. Dan was the second oldest of seven children. His father died when he was 17 years old. Dan’s younger brother, Frank was 10 years old at the time. Frank also played an important role in Pizza Hut. A few years later their mother remarried a cousin of their father and widower who took over running the store. After the marriage it became 12 children including one born to the couple to help at the store. Dan graduated with a business administration degree from Wichita State University. Afterwards at the age of 23 he married a woman who had also attended the same college. Dan served two years in the Air Force. He returned to Wichita and worked part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time at the Boeing Company. He and his wife had three kids with one on the way when Dan realized Boeing wasn’t for him. He quit to work full-time at the family store while trying to figure out his future. Like his father he felt working for someone else wasn’t for him.

The G.I. Bill helped support the family when Dan returned to Wichita State for his master’s degree. The G.I. Bill started as a benefit to World War II veterans, however it exists today with modifications throughout the years. This bill established veterans’ hospitals, offered low-interest mortgages, and paid allowances to veterans attending college or trade schools. Dan’s family also used the family grocery store to help make ends meet. The family ate the food not suitable to sell at the store expired dates on packages, bruised fruit, overripe vegetables, etc.

Dan at one point thought of opening a convenience store, but others didn’t see it as the future for him. Dan wanted to start a chain similar to White Castle that started in Wichita. For anyone who never ate at a White Castle or watched Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, it’s similar to McDonalds. A sneaky way the owners of the restaurant tried to make people trust White Castle food they hired actors to dress like doctors and eat there. Not exactly fraud because the actors never said they were doctors.

Dan worked on his Masters of Business for over two years while he tried to decide his next direction. The answer came through the landladies of the family’s grocery store. Close to the grocery store stood a beer joint owned by the same landladies who decided it needed to become a different business. One of the landladies brought an article into the grocery store from the Saturday Evening Post to share with Dan. The article raved about pizza places being great new businesses. In 1957 at the time of the article, pizzerias were popular on the east and west coasts, but still unknown in the rest of the country. A lot of people only knew about pizza from celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and James Dean talking about loving pizza.

Strange for us now to think of pizza as unknown or new to most Americans. Younger listeners may be shocked by that or just shocked that people existed way back in the 1950s. Italian immigrants knew about pizza, but it mainly remained in their family. During World War II, soldiers who occupied Italy discovered pizza. Those soldiers returned home telling others about pizza. Even in New York City eating pizza for most people was a new thing. The New York Times explained pizza to New Yorkers in 1944. I have relatives who lived in Kansas in the 1950s who, at that time, had never tried a pizza. They remember their mother read about this thing called pizza and made it for them with a biscuit crust and tuna fish, anchovies, tomato sauce and Velveeta cheese on top. Not the current idea of pizza, but they remember it fondly. I’m happy they didn’t make it a traditional dish at Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.

Back to Dan Carney. Dan told his brother Frank about the pizza idea from the landlady. Frank, six years younger, was a freshman at Wichita State thinking of becoming an aeronautical engineer. The brothers, excited by the idea, needed to pay the landladies $155 to lease the beer joint. At this point both realized neither man had savings nor even a checkbook.

They went to a bank for a loan with the bank turning them down because the officer did not know what was a pizza and didn’t see Kansans wanting Italian food. Remember this example if a bank even turns you down for a loan. Sometimes bank officers are clueless.

Next they asked their mother. The two borrowed $500 (some sources place the amount at $600) from a fund set up by their father’s life insurance payment to pay for his kids’ schooling with the understanding it must be paid back as soon as possible. The money would go to the lease and to remodel the beer joint into a pizza restaurant.

Dan and Frank now faced a major hiccup in their plan. Neither brother knew how to make pizza. The boys only had a vague idea about pizza having tried it once. There existed just one pizzeria in Wichita at the time.

Enter John Benner into the story. He was a friend of a Carney sister and worked at McConnell Air Force Base. John worked in a pizza place in Indiana giving him more expertise than almost anyone in Wichita. John wanted to earn more money outside of army pay for his wife and child. John knew how to make the sauce, but not how to make the dough for the crust. Not having a pizza dough recipe, he made French bread dough. The meeting with the Carney brothers happened so quickly there wasn’t even time for it to raise so he just rolled it out. Dan and Frank sampled and loved the pizza. John’s last minute fix for pizza dough led to a thin, crispy crust unique to Pizza Hut.

The Carney brothers decided to hold off paying themselves, but guaranteed John a salary. Also, they promised him a future third of the business. In exchange, John taught Dan and Frank how to make pizza. Now they had a location and recipe.

Pizza Hut, what a great name. It’s catchy, homey, and distinctive. How did they manage to come up with that name? Surely hours spent with some advertising experts followed by focus groups to come up with it. Not even close. A Coco-Cola distributor gave them the sign for free. The sign would only hold 9 characters. They decided pizza needed to be in the title to explain what they sold. Now space and three letters left. Dan’s wife came up with hut based on the look of the restaurant. She said it looked like a hut and the others agreed to those three letters. That’s all that went into the name.

Dan, Frank, and John planned to still serve beer at the former beer joint, but needed to remodel the building for pizza. This needed to be accomplished as cheaply as possible. Their families and friends helped search for deals. Unfinished wood chairs on sale at Sears were bought and painted. The tables consisted of plywood on top of used table bases they painted. Dan’s wife made the curtains. They found used prep tables and a front counter the combined total cost less than $100. For other items they became more inventive. They needed a mixer for the dough but mixers were much too expensive. Even a large, steel bowl to mix dough was too expensive. Instead, they used a plastic baby bathtub to mix the dough. Next the dough should have been placed in a special cabinet to raise. Again too expensive. The restaurant used a trash can with a lid for the dough to raise. Even though the dough trash can was just used for dough it was kept out of view of customers because that would just look gross. No surprise a refrigerator was also too expensive. Drinks they sold were simply kept in a cooler full of ice. A used cooler of course.

No refrigerator won’t be an option for most restaurants. Besides the cost, the restaurant couldn’t spare the space. Luckily, close by stood the Carney’s store. They kept supplies at the Carney’s Market especially items that needed to be refrigerated. The three men used Carney’s Market to prepare food when possible i.e. make the sauce, chop toppings, etc. The Carney’s connections to food suppliers helped them get good deals on food.

They found an old case register for less than eight dollars. The old machine thought a whole buck deserved a celebration. A bell dinged every time they hit that button which was often. A 10-inch (small) cheese pizza cost .95 and a 13-inch (large) cost $1.50. A large supreme cost $2.50. For two dollars you hit the one dollar button twice. I imagine within the first month they were hoping the bell would break.

Saving the riskiest for last, they bought a used oven unsuited for their needs. The oven, unused for so long, contained a bird’s nest. After cleaning it up they found it wasn’t hot enough to cook pizza. They drilled larger holes in the gas jets to create a bigger flame. Does that sound safe to you? This caused hot spots in the oven. Someone needed to rotate pizzas baking to prevent burnt spots. Rotating the pizzas caused workers to lose all the hair on their arms from the oven singeing them off.

The opening day in May 1958 made the owners realized how ill prepared they were. People came to support them even though they were burning pizzas and the restaurant was unbearably hot. Partly because of the supped up oven and partly because there was only one small air conditioning unit in the restaurant. Someone brought in a fan that caused the cooks to lose control of pizza dough tossed in the air. One toss almost landed on someone’s head. First day they served around 150 customers.

The restaurant was not an immediate success. Dan continued to work at the Carney’s Market. Even though friends promoted Pizza Hut, the restaurant barely made enough to give the owners hope for the future during the first summer. That changed once college started back up. The students made Pizza Hut successful. Fortunately the small restaurant allowed carry out, because inside rested just a few tables. December of that same year they added a second store in Wichita with $1,200 from John’s father. Remember at first John was the only one who knew how to cook pizza. The second store, even smaller than the first store, only offered carry out. When they opened the third restaurant, just two months after the second store, John became an equal partner with a third of the business.

Dan was interested in the way Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s used franchising to grow their business. Usually founders have a hard time letting go of a business. Not for the Pizza Hut founders. The goal to start a franchise topped running a restaurant. This allowed them to avoid micromanaging and let others take responsibility for Pizza Hut stores.

Pizza Hut continued to grow. In July 1958 the Wichita Beacon newspaper ran an article about the restaurant including pictures. In 1 ½ years there were five Pizza Hut restaurants. The restaurant hours helped with the success. Pizza Hut hours were 4:00 pm to midnight. This was very popular in Wichita where bars closed at 10:00.

Not all Pizza Huts made it through the first year. The business model depended on volume of business while keeping costs down. Few men worked at each Pizza Hut as part of keeping costs down. The dine-in restaurants usually depended on three men preparing the pizza and one waiting on customers.

Carry out was a big money maker for Pizza Hut, but there were no pizza boxes yet. That was years away. Instead pizza was inserted in toil foiled envelopes carefully folded with the middle high up to prevent the cheese from sticking to the top. It was then stapled shut for the customer.

In college the Carney brothers belonged to a fraternity. Many of the fraternity brothers worked at Pizza Hut. Frank told a college student he could eat all the pizza he wanted and drink all the beer he wanted. The college student felt lucky to be paid on top of that. After hours almost every night employees would met in the closed restaurants to drink beer and play poker. Basically Pizza Hut became a boy’s clubhouse. No women worked at Pizza Hut or anyone outside their white circle of friends.

While Pizza Hut allowed Dan and the other owners to live like they were still in school, they did work hard when the employees attended classes. Dan prepared the food, balanced the books, and checked on stores. His focus reminded on owning franchise store and lowering costs. He would deliver supplies to franchises and check on them. The franchise owners appreciated his help and advice. Also they felt they could approach him with a problem without worrying Dan would yell at them.

In October 1959 Pizza Hut branched outside Wichita to Topeka, Kansas. The Pizza Hut opened near 21st and Gage Boulevard. The Pizza Hut in Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas opened the next year. Aggieville is a popular part of town for Kanas State University students. The Aggieville Pizza Hut was the first Pizza Hut to have delivery although home delivery was still decades away. Employees carried pizza and drove scooters to the bars in Aggieville having no trouble selling them to tipsy college students. Aggieville’s Pizza Hut also gets credit for coming up with the pizza buffet. The story goes one day the restaurant was overflowing with customers with not enough staff to serve them. The franchise owner decided to meet demand by putting the pizzas on the counter for everyone to share. Customers loved it. Later Pizza Hut headquarters would encourage the idea in other restaurants.

Now I’ll explain how Pizza Hut defined a franchise. Franchises is when a person pays an established brand an annual fee and percentage of sales. The brand, in turn, helps to show the buyer the ropes including training and promoting the store. Pizza Hut tried something special. They allowed someone to have the rights to franchise a city not just one restaurant. Dan wanted it that way to prevent Pizza Huts with different owners competing against each other. The founders tended to work with just friends or friends of friends which allowed for handshake deals. One friend of the Carney brothers received the rights to Colorado for $300. The founders didn’t insist on the money upfront, just asked the person pay them back when he could afford it.

On one hand that sounds nice but kept in mind the founders were not selling franchise rights to necessarily the most qualified people. The deals were made with people they knew through their fraternity, church, family, etc. That would change though out the years. The founders would even advertise franchise opportunities in major national publications. They realized real growth meant reaching outside their social network.

No surprise, Pizza Hut created a secret recipe for the tomato sauce on the pizza. At first each restaurant made batches of it several times a day. Realizing this took too long with room for error, the founders created bags of the dried ingredients that would be added to tomato sauce for the sauce. The founders assembled the bags themselves to save money, but quickly ran into problems. Besides taking too much of their time, Frank became allergic to one or more of the ingredients. He developed blisters and open sores on his hands. So that’s really gross for someone who handles food. In 1963 they started a separate business to make the bags for the secret sauce.

Many Pizza Huts failed in the first five years. Partly because of poor location. No one knew an accurate way to research if people would buy pizza in a town or neighborhood. Also partly because of the franchise owners. It was very hard work where a person needed to devout almost all waking hours to the restaurant. Lastly the founders tried to guide people, but Pizza Hut provided very little written directions. It wasn’t until 1964 they finished the first operating manual for the company. Before that, only recipes were written down. New franchise owners lacked instructions for training, greeting customers, and handling problems.

At first there was no set style for the buildings. Owners needed to find a good price on a building that needed little renovation regardless how the building looked from the outside. In the 1960s Pizza Hut decided it needed recognizable, uniformed buildings. Dan contacted an old classmate who wanted to charge $30,000 for the Pizza Hut design. Unable to afford that price, Pizza Hut said it would pay him $100 per store that used his design. The architect ended up earning about half a million though out the years. The architect’s first design didn’t have the red roof. Pizza Hut tried a red, shingled roof in 1965 at a Colorado Springs restaurant. It became the standard as the founders liked the look. It is estimated around 6,000 of this type still exist. I personally prefer the red roof too even though Pizza Hut has since moved away from it.

Dan’s zeal for franchising caused Pizza Hut to focus most on growth. Energy left over went towards making headquarters. In 1966 they rented their first office in Wichita. Before that they used whatever space they could find. Also they finally hired a certified public accountant. The founders also began wearing suits to show others they took the business seriously.

Frank became in charge of sites for new locations. He would drive everywhere because airfare was too expensive. Pizza Hut recognized at this point failed restaurants looked bad for the entire company, unlike at first when they saw any new restaurant as a good idea. Frank would look at the area of town and if enough households would support the business. Pizza Huts sprung up farther and farther away from Wichita. At one point it took Frank six months to visit a franchisee about a new site. This led to much frustration for franchise owners. Once Pizza Hut could justify the cost of airfare, Frank’s schedule became more hectic. Now Frank would visit cities in one day and be off to another spot. Again, Pizza Hut founders wanted to grow as quickly as possible.

Pizza Huts in some states ran into problems with the pizza recipes. Remember the thin crust Pizza Hut used? That crust was popular in states where Pizza Hut introduced pizza to people. In the Northeast America people typically disliked that type of crust. In Ohio, a franchise owner said customers compared it to a cracker and hated it. In New York customers complained about the flavorless sauce. Some franchise owners let the crust raise in places where customers compared the crust to a cracker for a doughier crust. The customers preferred it. One franchise owner told Frank about it and Frank said it was fine as long as he kept it to himself.

Do you know Pizza Hut’s mascot? Designed by a friend of Dan, Pizza Pete became the mascot. Pizza Pete was a white guy, black hair, mustache, and 10- gallon hat. He changed throughout the years. Sometimes a cook or cowboy with lasso. Pizza Pete often wore an apron. Or at least I assume an apron. In some drawings it appears more as a skirt. In 1969 Pizza Pete tried to appeal to hippies. He’s catchphrase became pizza power. To me that sounds like something from a video game, but the ad people at the time meant it to tie into flower power. Maybe at the time it was clearer what they were going for peace, love, and pizza.

As I explained earlier two of the original owners were brothers, Dan and Frank Carney. I’m guessing most people with a sibling would know that wasn’t always easy. No surprise the brothers argued. One time they argued so loudly everyone in the office thought the business was breaking up. Dan assured the employees that wasn’t the case and the two tried to only argue away from the employees afterwards.

Pizza Hut wanted to keep good employees like any company. Their carrot approach was to fast track employees. One employee remembered after a few months he was offered a store manager position. While still in college he made more than his father. After graduating, which took longer because he took a lighter load of classes, he became an area supervisor.

Sounds good for people who worked at Pizza Hut, but very few women or non-whites were even hired at Pizza Hut. You might think that maybe women weren’t interested in working there. Actually Dan stated for most of the 1960s he considered it an unwritten rule women won’t be hired. One Texas franchisee told Dan he hired women and Dan told the Texan that Pizza Hut didn’t hire women. The Texan continued to hire women though.

Franchise fees were not uniformed for the first restaurants. In the mid-1960s the founders worked to bring some standard in place. A franchisee paid 4.5% on the first $5,000 of sales up to $225 and 3% of gross sales as a service fee. Initial fees depended on the population of the city costing between $4,000 to $6,000 with bigger cities costing more. Pizza Hut’s fees were less than Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s leading to more people interested.

In 1965 Pizza Hut produced their first television commercial in Wichita entitled “Putt Putt to the Pizza Hut”. Originally the company planned to use scooters to deliver pizza and call it “Putt Putt at Pizza Hut” but that fell through. The scooters couldn’t drive in snow or go fast enough to deliver hot pizzas. You can see the ad on YouTube. Fun to watch the lack of pizza boxes I mentioned earlier. Also on the car is a picture of Pizza Pete.

In 1967 Pizza Hut began working on national advertising. They took an idea from a Texas franchisee to ask franchise owners to donate 1% of gross sales towards advertising. Most believed it would be valuable, however some resisted. To make everyone participate it became part of the franchise agreement.

Evidently the franchise owners formed the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association or IPHFHA (which is no easier to remember). The goal was for them to sort out issues themselves and only bring the important things up to the founders. 1968 and beyond contracts required membership fee. That same year there were 310 Pizza Hut stores. The IPHFHA took over advertising. Pizza Hut had ads on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with Ed McMahon saying he loved eating at Pizza Hut. Radio ads were made in Wichita then sent to franchises to promote Pizza Hut. Not all radio ads appealed to the audience. One commercial told the story of family eating pizza then the father falls asleep snoring. Simple enough, message he was content by the meal. Problem some people thought it sounded like he was farting. Not the best message that a food causes gas.

In 1969 Pizza Hut went public on the stock exchange. This turned the founders into millionaires, at least on paper. Happy days? Not quite. As a public company, all the restaurants needed to send financial statements once a month. As I said earlier focus rested on growth not a standard system or business training. Stores sent financial statements in different formats, late, and without correcting past errors. Basically no one had a clear idea how to report their store’s monthly sales the correct way, because Pizza Hut didn’t have a set idea how it should be done. That same year Pizza Hut hired an accountant in Wichita to look at the books. He worked nonstop for almost two months on the books. Afterwards he informed the founders they had already spent all the money from going public bankrupting Pizza Hut.

How is that possible? Basically the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing expect in this case it was hundreds of hands. There were 500 stores at this point including stores in Canada and Mexico. Pizza Hut would be informed when a new store opened not when management began spending money on buying the property and building the restaurant. Just nine months after going public the stock price dropped from $32.00 to $3.75. Recognizing the problem, Pizza Hut hired a high price CPA whose salary exceed any of the founders. He secured a $1 million cash loan for Pizza Hut.

Despite the rocky shape of Pizza Hut’s finances, in 1971 they became the pizza chain selling the most pizzas in in the world. In 1972 Dan stepped down from the CEO position and his brother Frank took over. Frank knew for a couple of years Dan wished to leave. Dan remained on the board with limited involvement. Dan said he enjoyed building up the business, but found day-to-day operations boring. Afterwards he lent his expertise to his old school Wichita State University. He served on its advisory council in finding one of the first entrepreneur centers at a university in the country. Many years earlier Dan left Wichita State University just three credits short his Master of Business Administration. A disagreement with a professor over a paper’s subject was the reason he failed to finish. Dan wanted to write a thesis paper about franchises, but the professor did not see that as a real business topic. Obviously Wichita State changed its mind over the years. Dan received his master’s degree October 2004.

By the early 1970s, the Pizza Hut chain consisted of over 1,000 stores. Hoping to avoid the chaos of the past, Pizza Hut installed a surprising restriction on new stores. New Pizza Huts would only be opened by existing franchise owners. That meant only 116 men could open a Pizza Hut. Bold move during the 1970s when Americans spent more money than ever eating out. It saved training new owners however it also sounds like the old boys club circling around each other. The franchise owners were close and gave advice to each other as Pizza Hut still lacked adequate training. Owners learned almost everything from other franchise owners. They couldn’t stop new chains but they could limit internal competition.

Pizza Hut did try opening other types of restaurants. In the 1970s they sold the unsuccessful ones. I had never even heard of any of them Next Door, Flaming Steer, Taco Kid, and Fiesta Cantina. The last name I like the most. Fiesta and cantina in the name. Sounds like trying a little too hard to get the point across it’s Mexican food.

In 1975 Pizza Hut added thick crust to the standard menu. As I said earlier some franchises already added that feature years ago when customers compared the crust to crackers.

In 1977, Dan, Frank, and John sold the franchise to PepsiCo. The company’s growth continued to be impressive despite the restriction of only existing franchise owners opening Pizza Huts. PepsiCo bought over 2,800 restaurants in the deal. PepsiCo owns many brands including Pepsi drinks, Fritos, Mountain Dew, Doritos, etc. Basically products that fall into the you-should-really-never-eat-them category, but we do anyway. One year later PepsiCo bought the Taco Bell chain.

I’m sure the founders were glad to sell Pizza Hut. By the end of 1970s over 70% of the Pizza Huts were losing money. Partly because of more competing businesses such as Godfathers and Little Caesars. In response, Pizza Hut started selling the Pan Pizza to distinguish itself from other chains. This was a gamble because the restaurants need new equipment to offer that type of pizza. Buying new equipment when you are already losing money is risky. It worked though and helped bring customers back. By the 1980s Pizza Huts stood in 25 countries.

Frank Carney stayed on as president of Pizza Hut for a while, however answered to PepsiCo. He even joined the PepsiCo board of directors. He resigned in 1980. Later Frank joined the Papa John pizza chain.

The Pizza Hut franchise owners hated to see Frank leave. Throughout Pizza Hut’s history the franchise owners were treated as partners in the company. PepsiCo wished to treat them more as factory workers. PepsiCo would say they wanted input from them, but really they wanted them to turn out the product approved by PepsiCo. PepsiCo wanted to completely take over advertising and marketing without franchise owners’ input. After very tense meetings, PepsiCo agreed to listen to the owners. PepsiCo also wanted all franchises owners under the same contract. Obvious this change made life easier for PepsiCo, but older franchise owners would lose some great deals in place. Finally PepsiCo understood they needed to make the new, uniform agreements so enticing every franchise owners would want to sign them.

In 1985 Pizza Hut launched the Book It! Program. The goal was to show the community they weren’t just a giant corporation. Kids would receive free pizza when they read books.

Pizza delivery is so common now it’s hard to believe Pizza Hut owners fought against it. Domino’s Pizza delivered pizza years before Pizza Hut. Many franchise owners didn’t think it would make money to offer that option. They worried about the additional costs of a driver and insurance. Also, would only people who usually ate in their restaurant or carried out pizza want delivery? They would face additional costs without additional sales. PepsiCo worried Domino’s Pizza would continue growing becoming the biggest pizza brand. PepsiCo pushed, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s Pizza Hut delivered. To encourage people to still eat at the restaurants, Pizza Hut started All-You-Can-Eat-Buffets.

In 1991 Pizza Hut played a minor part during a coup in Russia. Pizza Hut in Moscow delivered 300 pizzas and drinks to the surrounded and shut-in Russian Parliament, which at the time included Boris Yeltsin. The store didn’t charge them. One year later Kansas senator at the time, Bob Dole, hosted Boris Yeltsin in Wichita to give him a silver pizza pan.

In 1995 not yet United States President Donald Trump acted in Pizza Hut commercials with his first wife. They split a stuffed crust and joked about their divorce. Wow not sure what part of that factoid seems the weirdest. At this point you may want to pause the podcast to make a few jokes. Tiny hands holding pizza is an easy start.

In the 1990s Pizza Hut couldn’t seem to stop itself from adding new products. Surprising they could keep coming up with new ideas for pizza. You may remember some of them The Big Foot, Triple Decker, Edge, Sicilian, Big New Yorker. Spike Lee appeared in ads for the Big New Yorker pizza. In 1997 former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was in an ad for Edge Pizza. More importantly than all those products to Pizza Huts business, in the 1990s Pizza Hut began offering online ordering at some restaurants.

In 2001 Pizza Hut delivered a pizza to the International Space Station. Not sure how that worked because everything floats in space. In 2007 Pizza Hut started a Facebook page, helping to lower the appeal of Facebook as more and more companies used it.

Pizza Hut’s growth continued to more than 15,000 restaurants in over 90 countries. Not to worry about them becoming too corporate. I looked at their website and they stated they are not just pizza people but human people. Thank goodness non-human people aren’t trying to sell us pizza. Seriously at the time I looked that is on their About Us page. The company must think it reassures people. To me, it actually sounds like something an alien race would say to try to win our trust. We are human people just like you now take us to your leader.

I hoped you enjoyed this podcast about Pizza Hut. If you are hungry you could always order one of the founders, Dan Carney’s, favorite pizza. It’s pepperoni and anchovy pizza. Yum. Dan was not surprised that even though Pizza Hut won’t exist without him, his favorite is not on the standard menu. If you want to learn more you may want to read the book The Pizza Hut Story by Robert Spector. It includes pictures of early Pizza Hut ads. Also Sunflower Journey had an episode where they interviewed Dan Carney.



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