This month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced the opening of a new exhibition, “Inventing in America.” One of the features of the exhibit? The Pizza Hut Red Roof!
Contrary to what you might expect, the red roof wasn’t a part of the original Pizza Hut location. The first Pizza Hut, located in Wichita, Kansas, was a simple red brick building that housed the pizza dreams of two college students—brothers—who borrowed $600 from their mother to purchase equipment and open their restaurant. Why they decided on the name “Pizza Hut” is a story for another time…
With this inauspicious start, what would later become the largest pizza company in the world was born. The brothers incorporated and recruited their first franchisee to open a second Pizza Hut location in Topeka, Kansas, just one year later.
The red roof design didn’t come along until 1969, when the restaurant brand started to grow internationally. The two brothers began to worry about competition, and started to think about new, creative ways to distinguish their Pizza Hut restaurants. The brothers called up a college friend and fraternity brother who happened to be an architect and artist in Wichita: Richard D. Burke. As the story goes, Burke had originally charged the brothers a hefty upfront fee that the fledgling pizza start-up wasn’t able to scrape together. Instead, they offered Burke $100 per store built using his design, never guessing that Pizza Hut would become the global company that it is today.
One of the architects who worked with Burke reports that the red roof design was a fusion of common sense, the architectural taste of the 1950s, and a need for the design to be both remarkable and appealing in a variety of locations. The same year the design was being drafted, Pizza Hut expanded to their first locations in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Australia. Here’s what one of the early Pizza Hut restaurants looked like, with the original logo, Pizza Pete:
Pizza Hut became the top pizza chain restaurant in 1971 and incorporated the red roof into the logo to solidify the red roof as our brand image (sorry Pizza Pete). The design itself was patented as well (patent no. 852458) and became symbolic of family dinners, post-game parties, and late nights at the office all around the world. As the company has grown and opened restaurants of all kinds, the red roof has stayed part of our heritage—even at Express locations, like this one from the 1980s.
While Pizza Hut is still one the largest pizza restaurant in the world, many of our newest restaurants have since abandoned the red roof for a more modern design. The red roof might be best suited for a museum, but we’re proud of the story connected to the simple architecture: the way two brothers and their college friends took pizza to new heights, and helped families make memories that would last a lifetime.