Frank Carney — Pizza Hut cofounder and later, Papa John’s franchisee — died at the age of 82 on Wednesday from complications of pneumonia. Carney also struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and had recently recovered from COVID-19.
When Carney opened the first-ever Pizza Hut in 1958 with his brother, thanks to a $600 loan from their mother, he was only a 19-year-old student at Wichita State University and up until then, had only ever tried pizza once, according to The New York Times. On opening night, they attracted customers by offering them free pizza. Pizza Hut — so-named because their first location was “boxy hut-like building” was an instant hit with students — especially for takeout, due to its small 600-square-foot size — and soon expanded.
Three years later, he and his brother opened up their first franchised location in Topeka and nearly two decades later, they had 4,000 locations.
Although the Carney brothers first sold their pizza “thin and crispy,” a few years into their success, they developed the pizza chain’s famous pan pizza recipe, which has endured since its inception.
By 1971, Pizza Hut had become the largest pizza franchise in America with 1,000 locations internationally, and in 1972, the pizza company made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1977 the brothers sold Pizza Hut to PepsiCo for more than $300 million, while Carney remained on the pizza chain’s board of directors until 1980.
After he left the company, Carney went on to other business ventures, and operated more than 130 Papa John’s franchises, famously appearing in a commercial in the 1990s saying, “sorry guys — I found a better pizza,” according to his obituary.
“Frank was a very driven person,” his brother Dan Carney told The New York Times. “He would pick up an idea and run with it. You just don’t win every time.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Frank Carney’s favorite type of pizza was Hawaiian-style with pineapple, chicken, bacon and extra jalapeños.
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