If we were in the business of handing out personality awards to our coworkers, Chris Pull would win the Nicest Person with the Most Unexpected Career Path award. A Scientist on our Food Innovation team, Chris’s current responsibilities include developing new flavors for our extremely delicious WingStreet menu. However, if you had asked Chris ten years ago where his career would take him, we’d bet “chicken wing aficionado” wouldn’t be his first answer. We ventured down to the Pizza Hut kitchens to learn more about our favorite WingStreet guru.
How did you come to start working at Pizza Hut?
I started working at Pizza Hut 10 years ago as a delivery driver. I was in college and one of my friends worked at Pizza Hut, so I too got a job at Pizza Hut. My first job was in Lewisville on Route 407—just up the street from the Plano Pizza Hut headquarters. It was a Research and Development restaurant, and at some point during my time I became a cook as well as worked as a server on busy Friday nights. I moved up into a Shift Leader role, and then graduated college in 2007 and started looking for a more traditional job.
Someone who was in the Engineering group here at headquarters recommended me for an open position at Pizza Hut, and in the fall of 2007 I started as a technician—testing ovens, approving new fryers, etc. Then, the organization did some restructuring and I was transferred to the Product Development team on “core products.” Core products are the menu items that are already offered in restaurants—things like our Meat Lover’s® pizza, Tuscani® Pastas, etc. Then we combined new products and core products under the Food Innovation team, and I was put in charge of WingStreet product development. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last two or three years!
So what does your day look like as a WingStreet innovator?
That’s what makes working at Pizza Hut so exciting, each day is different! The majority of my time is spent down in the kitchen cooking up wings, evaluating new products, and working out ways to make our current products even better. Right now, we are testing an expanded flavoring lineup in Toledo, Ohio that includes four dry rubs and four additional sauces. During the exploration and development phase for these flavors we must have tried almost 500 different samples! We would identify a flavor to taste each day, and in some cases we had 20+ samples of each unique flavor. One of the sauces that we have developed even won first place at the Buffalo Wing Festival. [Editor’s note: read all about it here]
Right now, a lot of my time is focused on the development and commercialization of our new larger traditional wings. Working with the Operations, Engineering, Quality Assurance, and Training teams we’ve been able to balance faster service times using an efficient process while ensuring we maintain food safety. Every day we are working on the processes to cook and cool wings and working in tandem with our Quality Assurance team to review samples from our suppliers. What we’ve discovered is a completely new solution for traditional wings to cut fry time in half and improve the product quality. This has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on, as we are able to offer an awesome wing while improving speed of service with a goal of reducing the possibility of a bad customer experience. As they say, “it takes a village,” and the entire team has showed awesome collaboration on this project.
You seem like a guy who wears many hats. Did you go to college for engineering? How did this career path come about?
I did not get a degree in engineering. Actually, my degree is a bachelor of science in criminal justice, with a criminalistics certificate! I was planning to go to law school, but when I graduated I realized I did NOT want to go to law school because of how expensive it is. This job just kind of happened—and it worked out great. I had the operations experience that transitioned well into an engineering role. I’ve also taken additional college level chemistry classes to bolster my food science acumen and now am taking courses in business management.
Do you think this wealth of experience causes you to approach product development differently?
I believe that I start thinking through new products with the team members at the restaurant at the front of my mind. We have to push the limits of innovative menu offerings and new flavors for our customers, but I also understand whatever products we dream about have to be grounded in the reality of what it’s like to work in the restaurant kitchen. I can come up with crazy experimental products, but if they won’t translate well for our team members working in the back of the restaurant, we’re not helping anyone.
When I think about coming up with new flavors, we do a lot of research as to what has already been done, as well as what food trends are growing in popularity all over the world—international flavors that we can share and bring to our customers. The objective is to be the flavor leader for WingStreet® as well as for Pizza Hut®. It can be as simple as going to social media to get a sense of what flavors are trending.
What do you most like about your job now?
That’s a tough question! It’s probably trying the new food every day. It’s really fun to try not only what I make, but what everyone else I work with is cooking up. There’s always something crazy and something new and exciting coming out of here that we get to try—things that you wouldn’t see anywhere else!
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting at Pizza Hut?
I would say keep an open mind, and also a creative mind. Things here move pretty fast, but it’s important to remember that we get to work on pizza everyday—what could be more fun than pizza? We are pretty lucky that that’s what we do for work each and every day. I try to think about the people that we feed at the end of the day. If you can remember that we’re here to feed people and make our customers and team members happy, you’ll find success.