Some of the photos are accompanied by eulogies like this one for a now-shuttered Chicago Pizza Hut: “A life cut too short, this [Pizza Hut] once thrived in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago but slowly withered away, feeling out of place in a world overtaken by the dreaded D&Ds (delivery and DiGiorno). Cordoned off like a crime scene, from this overhead view you can still make out the distinct flooring of the seating area, the entrance, and even the spot in the middle of the seating area where the buffet sat.”
Pizza Hut was founded in 1958. It is still the nation’s top-selling pizza chain, but in recent years it has lost ground to competitors and increasingly popular “fast-casual” spots like Chipotle.
The company hopes to turn that around. Pizza Hut is changing its logo, swapping out uniforms — polo and black pants — for jeans and a T-shirt, and revamping its Web site. Offering 11 new pizzas, Pizza Hut is also getting on the customization bandwagon popularized by Chipotle: a choice of crust, five new toppings, six sauces and four “drizzles.” The crusts have names like “Ginger Boom Boom” and “Get Curried Away.” Sriracha and bacon are recurring themes. Honey Sriracha is offered as both a drizzle and a sauce. The new pizzas include the “Sweet Sriracha Dynamite,” “BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, “Cock-A-Doodle Bacon” and “Pretzel Piggy,” a bacon-topped pizza with a pretzel crust.
The company’s new motto is “The Flavor of Now,” but Pizza Hut’s new Sriracha-doused, bacon-topped menu is a little behind the times. The resurgent popularity of bacon has been a thing since the early 2000s — likewise with Sriracha, the spicy sauce beloved by hipsters. Foodie Web site Eater’s take on the new menu was summed up in their headline: “Pizza Hut Hopes Putting Sriracha On Everything Will Make it Cool Again.”
In an interview with Time Magazine, Darren Tristano, a food industry analyst at the consulting firm Technomic, attributed Pizza Hut’s makeover to a “fear of irrelevance” and noted “the potential to negatively influence their current customer base is certainly there.”
Pizza Hut is hedging its bets by keeping old favorites like “Meat Lover’s” pizza and stuffed-crust pizzas on the menu.
Time Magazine’s taster Josh Sanburn gave the new items a less-than-glowing review. He called the “Old Fashioned Meatbrawl” a “reasonably restrained update on the classic topping.” He preferred the new pizzas to the dipping sauces, which left him longing for a simple marinara: “Cherry Pepper Bombshell is also better than it sounds.” “The Pretzel Piggie” is “one of the most convoluted combinations” on the menu, he said, but “it worked, kind of.”
“We’ve always been the one taking the category to new places,” David Gibbs, Pizza Hut’s new CEO, told Time.
Indeed, it has. If you think a Sriracha-soaked pretzel bacon pizza sounds like a wild idea, consider some of Pizza Hut’s previous advertising exploits:
1991: The company delivered pizza to Boris Yeltsin after the Russian leader survived an attempted coup.
1997: Pizza Hut paid former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to appear in a Rose Bowl spot. In the ad, the man who steered the Soviet Union towards democracy and flung open its doors to capitalism arrives at a Pizza Hut in a limousine. A skeptical older man says, ”Because of him, we have economic confusion.” The enlightened younger disagrees: ”Because of him we have opportunity.” They argue and an older woman pipes up: ”Because of him we have things like Pizza Hut.” Then they raise their slices and give Gorby a standing ovation.
1999: The company put it’s 30-foot logo on a Russian rocket sent to resupply the International Space Station. Pizza Hut initially wanted to display their logo on the moon with lasers, but that idea went out the window when astronomers and physicists told them it would have to be as big as Texas to be seen from Earth and would cost hundreds of millions.
2001: Pizza Hut became the first company to deliver pizza in space when they sent a special pie to Russian astronaut Yuri Usachov.