Today is Pizza Hut Restaurant General Manager Katelyn Armstrong’s day off, but she still comes by the restaurant around 3pm to check how things are going and to say hi to the rest of the team. It’s the Thursday before the Big Game, and the Ohio Drive, Plano Pizza Hut is gearing up for battle. They’ve folded over 900 pizza boxes in anticipation of the rush of orders during the big game.
But the impending onslaught of orders during Sunday’s Big Game looks like peanuts compared to Katelyn’s recent adventures. She just came back from three months in South Africa, where Katelyn and a team of international trainers traveled to launch the first Pizza Hut restaurants on the continent. A credit to her passion for training, Katelyn was tapped to take her first trip out of the US to assist in four new store openings. We sat down to talk to her about her experience in Johannesburg.
How did you hear about this opportunity to go to train Pizza Hut employees in South Africa?
It was a Friday night, I remember that much. I was told that Jeff Minick [VP of Operations for Pizza Hut] was going to come over to talk to me. I was warned it would be a strange request. But, Jeff was like, “What would you think about going to South Africa? It’s a big decision, but we need you to make it pretty quickly.” Originally, I was like I need to go home, I need to talk to my family, I need to think on it, can I call you first thing tomorrow? It was a great opportunity, but there were a lot of things to consider—being away from the country for three months, for one thing. I had to get a passport and visa, and this was my first time traveling out of the country!
What were your first impressions when you arrived?
The first restaurants opened about a week or two before I got there. I had a general idea that Pizza Hut had been taking the nation by storm. People would drive for hours just to come to Pizza Hut. After the 24 hour flight, they said that I could take the next day off, but by that point I wasn’t sleeping very well, I was jet lagged, so I said, let’s do it.
The first night I went to the restaurant was a Saturday night, and I could see the employees were doing a lot of really great things. You’ve never seen people work so hard, and be happy to work. You felt like you were a part of something big when you were there. So it was pretty much just hit the ground running. My big goal was to find the people I connected with the most and then train them; I knew I was only going to be there for three months and I wanted to focus on a few people to give them all the information I could in that short time.
What were some of the challenges of opening and running a Pizza Hut in South Africa?
They have an extremely strained power grid, and there are rolling blackouts every day. In one of the stores I was in, we didn’t have a normal day for the whole first week it opened: every day there was a power outage, or a water shortage, or something else going on. It was a challenge to roll with that every day and to make sure we had a plan. We’re so used to having power all the time.
What was your favorite memory from your time in South Africa?
As great as the safaris and the game tours were, the time I spent connecting and interacting with the teams was the best. One of the things that impacted me the most was how much people value hard work and getting somewhere there. We told five people that we were going to put them in training for management roles, and they cried. It was life changing for them. When I left that day—and I’d only been there about three weeks at this point—I knew I was a part of something bigger than just Pizza Hut. You’re giving [the employees] skills, you’re giving them options, and you’re literally impacting people’s lives. For a lot of the employees in South Africa, this was their first job, or they may be the only person earning money for their family. There’s so many stories like that, and they’re so proud to come to work and they’re so proud to be there.
I came from the bottom. I started out as a server and a driver at Pizza Hut and I’ve worked my way up. When I started out as a server and driver at Pizza Hut, I never thought I’d be going to South Africa. I thought this was just going to be a job for a little while. As I’ve been with Pizza Hut longer, and it’s become a career, I don’t ever want to leave.