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The tiny sign that gave Pizza Hut its name.
The tiny sign that gave Pizza Hut its name.

Pizza Hut Museum

Field review by the editors.

Wichita, Kansas

The small brick building that housed the World's First Pizza Hut looks like a hut, but that's not why Pizza Hut has that name.

Interior of the museum. Small table is for writing, not eating.
Interior of the museum. Small table is for writing, not eating.

The story is that in late 1957 Dan Carney, a recent Wichita State University (WSU) graduate, was approached by a landlady in town after she'd read an article in the Saturday Evening Post about a "pizza craze" sweeping the nation. Would Dan like to open a pizzeria?

"Dan Carney had never made a pizza in his life and had no experience running a restaurant," according to a display in the Pizza Hut Museum. He still said yes, even though the landlady's building was tiny and the previous tenant, B&B Lunch, was in fact, "a bar that served booze to truckers." The name B&B Lunch takes up nine character spaces -- the only room that was available on the building's little sign, and Dan couldn't afford to buy a new one. "Varsity Pizza" would be too long, but "Pizza Hut" just fit.

Relics from Pizza Hut's long history of self-promotion.
Relics from Pizza Hut's long history of self-promotion.

Carney and his staff, which consisted of his freshman brother and other WSU Shockers, didn't know how to make pizza dough, so they used a cookbook recipe for french bread, accidentally creating Pizza Hut's thin, crisp crust. The secondhand oven caught fire, melting its control knobs. A pizza tossed on opening night (May 31, 1958) ended up in the blades of an overhead fan.

The original Pizza Hut really was a hut.
The original Pizza Hut really was a hut.

The building was so small -- seen in a hand-drawn diagram on display -- that there was barely room for a prep counter, a few tiny tables, and the oven. "It only worked because it had no refrigeration," said Sam Morris, who oversees the museum for the University. "Mr. Carney [Dan's father] owned the Carney Market next door, and the brothers would just run over to dad's refrigerator to get what was needed." Another obstacle to overcome was the town's Protestant temperance and the building's bad reputation. "Parents would say, 'You can't go over and hang out with those Catholic boys serving pizza in that old beer joint.'"

Pizza Hut Pete: the franchise mascot until 1974.
Pizza Hut Pete: the franchise mascot until 1974.

The Carney brothers prospered nonetheless, and 19 years later they sold their franchise -- still named Pizza Hut -- to PepsiCo for $300 million. A bronze plaque outside the Hut's front door asserts that, "young individuals through hard work and initiative can still rise from modest beginnings to positions of leadership and success."

The University was eager to identify itself with the Carneys, and moved the little building onto campus in 1986. It served for a time as an inspirational Meeting Hut for WSU's Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs, but mostly it sat empty. In 2017 the Hut was moved again -- this time to what WSU called its "Innovation Campus" -- and on April 25, 2018, it officially opened as the Pizza Hut Museum.

What next? Pizza shoes?
What next? Pizza shoes?

Inside, visitors can watch a video interview with Dan (titled "A Founder's Dream") and see artifacts such as a Pizza Hut Barbie, a pair of Pizza Hut golf pants, and a 45 rpm record for the song, "Putt-Putt to the Pizza Hut." There's also a Frisbee featuring Pizza Pete (the Hut mascot until 1974), a pair of rare "pie top" sneakers ("The button on the tongue connects to your phone and orders a pizza"), and the gold Pizza Hut watch that Dan never wore for fear it would fall into a sauce vat.

Many of the exhibits were collected by Dan's wife, who gave them to him as a surprise birthday present (They both attended the museum dedication). Two of Pizza Hut's most prized relics are on display: its original recipe for pizza sauce (written by Dan on a napkin) and a copy of the 1957 Saturday Evening Post that started the whole thing.

One exhibit boasts that Pizza Hut once paid Russia a million dollars to deliver a pizza to outer space. The company "had the foresight to load the pizza with extra salt and spices, as extended stays in orbit tend to deaden the sense of taste."

Visitors can sit at an original Pizza Hut cafe table, under a vintage Pizza Hut stained glass lamp, and write their thoughts on napkins (provided by the museum) that are then posted on a "Share Your Story" board. According to Sam, some tourists are perplexed that they can't eat pizza here; others have trouble realizing that the building is the first Pizza Hut, and not just an unusually small museum.

Also see: Waffle House Museum

Pizza Hut Museum

Address:
2090 Innovation Blvd, Wichita, KS
Directions:
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) and beyond it a much smaller red brick building. That's the Pizza Hut. Park across the street in the ballpark lot.
Hours:
M 9-4, Tu-Th 12-4, F 9-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
316-978-5675
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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