As co-founders of the world’s no. 1 pizza chain, Frank and Dan Carney forever altered the pizza industry. Then, Frank veered off in a direction that no one was expecting.
When Pizza Hut started in 1958, its name aptly fit the 600-square-foot space into which it was crammed. Two brothers, Frank and Dan Carney, started the company with a $600 loan from their mother and the advice of their father, who always told them, “Don’t work for somebody else if you don’t have to.” The original location came together in Wichita, Kansas, with the help of some acquaintances. The woman who owned the building had recently read an article about the growing pizza phenomenon in New York and suggested the brothers give it a try. Coincidentally, a local man named John Bender had worked in a pizzeria in Indiana and developed his own recipe for pizza. Pizza Hut (www.pizzahut.com) was born.
“It was very slow at first,” Frank Carney told PMQ Pizza Magazine in 2009. But things quickly picked up—the first three locations were established in about a year and a half. “Our second location was carryout only, but our third had enough space for dine-in and carryout,” Frank recalled. “That’s when things broke loose. As soon as we had enough money, we’d open another store. Our third store owner became our first franchisee.”
Because many were not familiar with pizza at the time, Frank knew that sampling was the key. “When we opened a store, we’d have people come in and try it, and most of them were hooked,” he said. “It was so exciting, being a part of it.
Franchisees started to come to the brothers in droves, wanting to open their own outposts after seeing how successful they were. The fees were low—$100 for the franchise, $100 per month maximum—so people could easily start one up themselves, and business was quickly changing toward franchising. By 1966, Pizza Hut had 145 locations and was still growing rapidly; in 1972, the 1,000th location opened.
One of the brothers’ greatest successes was taking the company to international markets. In 1977, however, the company was sold to PepsiCo, and the Carneys’ involvement ended. Today, Pizza Hut still remains the No. 1 pizza chain in the country.
But for Frank, as with so many others, pizza remained in his blood: After some years out of the business, he decided he wanted to return, but not to Pizza Hut. Ironically, the man who founded the world’s most successful pizza restaurant company became a franchisee for Papa John’s.
By Tracy Morin