Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
The Manhattan, Kansas, restaurant, which has operated for 55 years, will serve its final slice Sunday.
After 55 years in business, the nation’s oldest Pizza Hut will fire up the oven one last time Sunday before shutting its doors for good.
Located in Manhattan, Kansas, the shop is one of dozens managed by Topeka native Bernie Butler, reports local newspaper The Topeka Capital-Journal. In a statement, he said that while he appreciates the historic value of the store, “we finally had to acknowledge that the financial side of the business outweighed the history of the place.”
Unlike his other shops, this one was primarily a dine-in restaurant and wasn’t able to handle high volumes of delivery orders. Delivery, of course, is how most Americans prefer to get their piping-hot discs of cheesy goodness.
Pizza Hut’s sales and popularity in the U.S. have been on the decline for years now, and as one Forbes opinion writer puts it, the chain “is well on its way to disappearing.” The chain has reported declining sales for eight straight quarters. And many of its iconic “red roof” restaurants have taken on new identities, as a Subways, liquor stores, and even a police station.
Pizza delivery is a $37 billion industry, with Pizza Hut owning the largest market share, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of the food service research firm Technomic. It’s also a moderate- to low-growth industry, which means the environment is extremely competitive. “We’re seeing a lot of competitive brands doing things differently than Pizza Hut,” he says. Dominos dropped “pizza” from its name, signaling a change in their offerings; Papa John’s is aiming for higher quality; and Little Caesars has been pushing take-out meals.
Restaurant analysts generally blame Pizza Hut’s falling popularity on its lack of innovation. “Restaurants need to remodel, refresh, and contemporize,” Tristano says. To Pizza Hut’s credit, it did try to rebrand a few months back to capture a younger audience, but Tristano says it was too much, too fast, and possibly too late.
Overseas, however, the chain has continued to expand, though the novelty that Pizza Hut relies on to attract customers abroad is starting to lose steam. Still, the chain grew globally from 5,600 stores to 5,900 between 2014 and 2015. In the U.S., the number of shops has shrunk from 7,355 to 7,337 over the past year.
Rather than offering a fast-casual environment, some of Pizza Hut’s restaurants—particularly in China—have a more upscale, dine-in feel. That’s their way of targeting the country’s growing middle class, says Tristano.
On a recent trip to Hong Kong, my father was excited—perhaps too excited—to take me to my first Pizza Hut experience overseas. We slipped into a Pizza Hut in the city’s shopping district. I was greeted with a trendy atmosphere, waiters in uniforms, and tables full of businesspeople. I was served a seafood pizza on a fancy plate (with forks and knives!) and iced tea in a Mason jar.