Did the title make you hungry? I was feeling hungry when we visited the Pizza Hut Museum in Wichita on our recent trip to Kansas in March of 2022, lol. In all seriousness, this was a great museum and so glad we were able to do a self-guided tour of this small little building that was the original Pizza Hut location. It has since been moved and is now located on the campus of Wichita State University. Even though it is small, it is packed with information and history about the Pizza Hut brand. Here is their story.
In 1958 two brothers, Dan and Frank Carney started a restaurant in a tiny building on the corner of Bluff and Kellogg in Wichita, Kansas. They sold pizza, an Italian dish that was just beginning to come to prominence in America, and called their new place Pizza Hut. They staffed it with family, friends, and fraternity brothers. From those humble beginnings, Dan and Frank Carney grew their business into the largest pizza restaurant chain in the world and established Pizza Hut as one of the most recognizable brands in the United States and abroad. It started right in the little building where we were standing. So cool. Here is the Pizza Hut story.
Taking risks was a trait Dan learned from his father Mike who owned a local store called Carney’s Market. After his father’s death, Dan continued to harbor a long-standing desire to be in business for himself. Without any capital, Dan knew the best growth strategy for Pizza Hut involved a true franchise model as a means to expand. Known for his integrity and handshake contracts, Dan gives credit to the hard work of the franchisees who became the backbone of Pizza Hut’s growth. Dan and Frank became true entrepreneurs, developing Pizza Hut into a business with both a domestic and international presence.
Dan and Frank also learned to see the whole business from an elevated vantage point instead of concentrating on only one aspect. “You had to understand every part of the business,” recalled Dan. Perhaps the most valuable lesson Dan and Frank learned at Carney’s Market was how a business owner treats customers, partners, and “the people who worked for you”. The lessons would influence the culture of customer care, trust between employees, and gentle leadership that became the hallmark of the Carney brothers’ time at Pizza Hut.
Before beginning Pizza Hut, Dan graduated from Wichita University with a degree in business administration. In 1954 he married fellow WU grad Beverly Singleton. They started their family while Dan served two years in the Air Force in Albany, Georgia.
Dan and his family returned to Wichita in 1956. Dan began the Master’s program in the business school at WU and returned to work part-time at Carney’s Market and full-time for Boeing. “Boeing wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Dan said. “I didn’t want to work for a big company.” Dan quit Boeing and went to work at Carney’s Market full-time with his brother Frank as he puzzled out his next step. In two years, Dan and Frank would start Pizza Hut which first opened on June 15, 1958.
Most Pizza Huts needed three employees: one rolled out, tossed, and trimmed the dough; another ladled on the sauce and applied toppings; and the most experienced employee, called the “ovenman,” tended the pizza as it baked, cut the pie once it came out of the oven, and either prepared the pizza for carry-out or dine-in service.
The venerable pizza chain has gone through a mere four major rebrands, with the 1974 “red roof” logo remaining in use for an astonishing 25 years. This iconic red roof, while stylized, remains in the logo, and yellow and green colors join the traditional red.
The early post-Carney era at Pizza Hut was marked by ups and downs. Donald Smith, a former CEO of Burger King and senior vice president in PepsiCo’s food services division, was brought in to lead Pizza Hut into the 80s. Smith clashed with franchisees over contractual agreements and authority over advertising. It took quite a while for Smith and IPHFHA to see eye-to-eye, and there were tense exchanges between Pizza Hut and its franchisees throughout the early 80s.
In an effort to turn around sagging sales and money losses, Pizza Hut began pushing a new product that Frank Carney had imitated several years earlier, Pan Pizza. The pan pizza was all about abundance and choice, including a thicker crust and a variety of toppings. New offerings included the now-famous Meat Lovers, Pepperoni Lovers, Cheese Lovers, and Veggie Lovers Pizzas.
As popular as Pizza Hut’s Pan Pizza became, initially franchisees were skeptical. A new type of pizza meant different kinds of dough and a new oven that could handle the pans the pizza cooked in. However, Pan Pizza was a runaway hit, and with the addition of Personal Pan Pizza, Pizza Hut became a destination for the lunch crowds as well.
One interesting thing I read while walking around the museum was that Pizza Hut was the first company to deliver food to space. In July of 2000, a rocket including a Pizza Hut pizza topped with salami (pepperoni didn’t have the necessary shelf life) docked with the International Space Station. I thought that was very cool.
They end their displays by saying that Pizza Hut is more than a meal, more than a place to grab a quick bite. Pizza Hut is a place for celebration, for community, and for family. No other restaurant brand brings people together quite like Pizza Hut. From Wichita to Warsaw, from Indonesia to Indiana, Pizza hut has been the place people have gathered to celebrate, relax, or visit as a reward for a job well done.
We had a great time checking out the Pizza Hut Museum and learning about the history of Pizza Hut. I had never really thought about it, I just really enjoyed their pizza. As soon as we were done touring, pizza and a visit to the Keeper of the Plains were part of the agenda for the afternoon. Hope you enjoyed my little tour of the Pizza Hut Museum. Here is a link to their website if you want to visit it yourself while in the area.
Pizza Hut Museum Visitor Information
1845 Fairmount St., Wichita, KS
Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
On the campus of Wichita State University. I-135 exit 9. Drive east on E. 21st St. N. for two miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto Mike Oatman Drive and onto campus. You’ll see a red brick building on the left (the Marcus Welcome Center). Turn left just past the building into the little parking lot. You’ll see a much smaller red brick building straight ahead. That’s the Pizza Hut.
Museum visitors may park to the north of the museum in the Marcus Welcome Center parking lot or west of the museum by Eck Stadium.
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