How Dominoes and Pizza Hut Became What They Are Today: Part One

  • Their beginnings were very humble and their stories parallel each other.

Currently, Americans consume 3 billion pizzas a year, spending more than $46 billion dollars. Pizza is the most popular food on the planet and,  Dominoes and Pizza Hut are the biggest players in the game.

We eat a lot of pizza, 350 slices a second are consumed. The History starts back in the 1950s.

In this time, pizza was unheard of. American pizza, as we know it today, came from a couple of Midwest brothers. Pizza by definition was created by the two companies.

With the late 1950s economy booming, suburbs underway, and highways being built, things are changing. Car culture gives desire and demand for convenience and fast food. People want to eat on the go.

Ray Kroc got his part of feeding Americans on the move with McDonalds. He made us a fast food nation. By 1958, McDonalds had sold a million hamburgers.

Burger king, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts had also come onto the scene. And the college brothers wanted in.

Dan Carney convinces his brother Frank to get into the business with him. Dan wanted to cash in on the fast food boom. He had ideas about décor but no experience.

He was so headfast about the idea that he dropped out of high school. Dan was ambitious and he wanted to create a life for himself.

They rented a run down old bar with a $600 loan from their mother. Carney wants to go against McDonalds and he is betting on a dish he read about in a magazine.

Pizza history goes back to the dish as Italian peasant food. Its origins are in Naples, Italy, in the late 17th and early 18th century. Originally, old dough was flattened, topped and baked in bread ovens.

Lombardi’s Pizza in little Italy in New York was established in 1905. At this time, there were small pizzerias here and there in communities with a high Italian population but other than that, pizza was still pretty much unknown.

This showed in the media as well. Every article in the 1950s that mentioned pizza had a picture and a description to clarify and explain because no one knew what it was.

Carney brothers needed a profit to pay rent and they were determined to open in two weeks. They had no idea what they were doing with pizza and they bring in part-time chef John Bender to help them

They used French bread for dough originally, to work with what they had. John says that pizza supposed to be soft, leveled bread. Dan says this is better. It’s light and crispy. Dan said they had found the recipe.

The pizza was created in Kansas, so it makes sense that it came from French bread. This taste appealed to mid-western palettes that the brothers wanted to sell to.

Another story of brothers started 800 miles from Wichita.  Tom Moynihan and his bother, Jim, took out 900 dollar loan for a sandwich shop. They bought it from a guy who gave them a quick how to and said good luck before walking out the door. They kept the name, DomiNick’s, after the founder.

The current menu had 5 different sizes of pizza, different sandwiches and other Italian specialties.

Eventually innovations and a pivotal name change, changed the company forever. In the late 1950s, more people went from poverty to middle class than ever before. The 50s is still considered the American ideal.

People could more easily move into the middle class. And the  Midwest had a surge in manufacturing, pushing Wichita as the largest city in Kansas.

This was perfect for new business.

The Carney brothers wanted to feed the middle class but a mere two days away from opening and they still didn’t have a name. They had use of a free sign, but with only 8 letters, and of course the name had to have pizza in it.

The brothers threw names around like Pizza Pit. But it turned into Pizza Hut, and that stuck.

On May 31st 1958, the original Pizza Hut opened. It brings pizza as we know it to the world. It was a huge gamble for these non-pizza making brothers but Midwesterners ate it up, literally.

Within 4 months people are flocking to the restaurants for the food and atmosphere. American pizza starting in Kansas gives people pause but also explains the success. This approach to the American ideal is what changed pizza and made it what we wanted.

Traditionally, there is little cheese and sauce on pizza. But for most of us, Pizza Hut is what defined “American pizza.”

On the other hand, the Moynihan’s cramped sandwich joint is exceeding their capacity. Not only were people cramped, but they didn’t want to wait.

So another idea comes up. With small rent comes small space, so why not bring the food to the people? Tom Moynihan realizes that if he brings pizza to consumers doors, he can eliminate lines and bring his food to the people.

This is how home-delivery started.

There was a little bit of home-delivery prior, but it was mostly Chinese restaurants and it was contained to densely populated cities. A Volkswagen car was the first delivery vehicle.

Tom started the delivery service and Jim didn’t agree. Tom had the ideas and was focused, whereas Jim was more aloof and more cautious at wanting to think things through.

For the rest of the story, click the title for How Dominoes and Pizza Hut Became What They Are Today: Part Two. These brothers really got a taste of the American dream, didn’t they?