Horatio Alger would have applauded the Carney brothers, the boys from Wichita, Kans., who founded the first Pizza Hut, built their investment into a million-dollar chain, and then sold it when they felt the company had gotten too big.
The epilogue to this success story is that the brothers have returned to the operation of comparatively small enterprises, with Frank Carney transversing the Washington metropolitan area and neighboring states opening Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurantes and Dan involved in the operation of 20 hotels around the country.
The Pizza Hut saga reads like a free enterprise classic. Frank and Dan Carney were raised by a father who quit his job at a Cudahy Packing plant because he didn't like working for a big company. He bought a corner grocery on Wichita's main highway and taught his teenaged sons to run the business, which they inherited when he died.
Down the street from the grocery, and across from a popular ladies' tearoom, was a little shack of a truck drivers' bar leased by two sisters named Maud and Molly. When Maud and Molly started hearing about drunken truckers stumbling into tea-drinking ladies, they offered the lease to the Carney brothers and suggested they read a Saturday Evening Post article about New York pizza places.
The brothers took the offer, threw in $300 each and found, by accident, someone who taught them to make pizza the night before they were scheduled to open the first Pizza Hut. That was in 1958. The subsequent growth of Pizza Hut franchising is history.
In 1977, Frank Carney sold Pizza Hut to Pepsico because, he said, he "wanted to do more than one thing," in the food service business and in other fields. While his current personal investments include oil and gas development, real estate, auto dealerships, home furnishings and the Wichita soccer team, he is primarily occupied as president of CCMR Inc. in McLean, which holds the mid-Atlantic franchise for Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurantes. Carney was recently here to open two Chi-Chi's, one in Rockville and the other in Springfield.
"When I left Pizza Hut, I said, 'What do I want to do?' " Carney recalls. "Everyone talks about the people from the postwar baby boom now being between 25 and 40. I said, 'Where do they want to get their food service?' They've been through McDonald's, Long John Silver's, now they're tired of fast food. They're up to where they want to have a drink with their meal. They've been eating meat and potatoes forever, and they want to eat ethnic food.
"Demographically, Chi-Chi's fit. Style-wise, it was a nice, clean environment, with drinks and ethnic food. And Chi-Chi's happened to be the best company in the field that allowed franchises."
Carney now oversees five Chi-Chi's restaurants, each of which has an average volume of $2.8 million per year. Eleven outlets are scheduled for completion by the end of this year, with 24 more scheduled to be built in the mid-Atlantic states over the next five years.
"I love this area," Carney said, pointing out it has a good economy and transportation. And, he said, "People are not afraid to try new things."