PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There was a time, not so long ago, when bright red rooftops dotted the American landscape. Come inside, they whispered. Have a seat. Maybe a salad. And a personal pan pizza.
But Pizza Hut has been abandoning its sit-down restaurants as it focuses on its delivery and takeout business. And what’s become of its former huts is fascinating.
In fact, a Pittsburgh guy has made it his mission to tell their stories. This was a man KDKA’s Ken Rice needed to meet.
He found Mike Neilson – a software guy from Kennedy – at the Rice Inn in Bethel Park.
It’s a new Asian restaurant that looks strangely familiar inside.
The way the booths are arranged around the outer walls. The way you can imagine a big salad bar in the middle. The way you can almost picture the pebbled, plastic red cups. Because the Rice Inn is what Mike Neilson calls an “UTBAPH” (rhymes with “mutt- laugh”), for Used To Be A Pizza Hut.
“You know a Pizza Hut when you see it,” says Neilson.
To him, this place in a specimen – one of hundreds of UTBAPHs he’s collected on his blog. He especially enjoys the way some former huts try to disguise the past, like a Mexican grill in Saskatoon.
“Fess up,” writes Neilson. “We all know what you’re hiding.”
About a greenery-shrouded bank, Neilson writes, “Stand proud, Valley National Bank. You have nothing to be embarrassed about, besides maybe the fact that you’re in New Jersey.”
Other UTBAPHs are upfront about their past lives.
“Some places kind of wear it proudly,” Neilson says.
It’s as if they’re saying to the world: We know what we used to be. You know what we used to be. Let’s move on and get you some insurance.
Or a giant sub.
Or some souvlaki.
At each UTBAPH, it’s clear there was a discussion about what to do with the signature Pizza Hut roof hump.
At Bethel Park’s Rice Inn – as at many UTBAPHs – it was a cold conclusion: Lance it. But other UTBAPHs display various, creative modifications.
Says Neilson, “Some have even re-used the word pizza on the hump.”
Case in point: Mobridge, South Dakota.
“They kept the word pizza and just put a big planet on top of the word ‘hut.’ So, now, it’s ‘Pizza Planet,’” says Neilson.
Many former Pizza Huts are restaurants of one kind or another. But a store for adults only in Brisbane, Australia? Used to be a Pizza Hut.
A police station in Des Moines, Iowa? Used to be a Pizza Hut.
A frat house at the University of Vermont? NOT a former hut, the blog insists, though it’s easy to see why less discerning observers could be fooled.
And in Washington state, the Yakima County Morgue – the morgue! – used to be a Pizza Hut.
But we won’t dwell on that because what the blog celebrates is renewal, re-use and re-birth. And Pittsburgh architect and preservationist Rob Pfaffman says well it should.
“As an urbanist/planner, I look at it and say I applaud it,” says Pfaffman. “From an architectural perspective, some of them aren’t so great. But you can have fun with them.”
So, maybe there’s nothing sadder than when a Pizza Hut entirely disappears, as Neilson notes in an affectionate post about an UTBAPH in Chicago that one day found itself “out of place… in a world overtaken by the dreaded D and D’s – delivery and DiGiorno. Rest in peace, UTBAPH. You belong to the ages now.”
To visit Mike Neilson’s website, click the link below: