One of Wichita’s most iconic symbols of entrepreneurship is going to have a new home at Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.
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The original Pizza Hut, which moved from its first site at Kellogg and Bluff to WSU in 1986, is moving to the Innovation Campus to become a museum commemorating what Wichita brothers Dan and Frank Carney started in 1958.
“It was the birthplace of the Pizza Hut,” Dan Carney says. “It was a little 500-square-foot building that started the chain.”
Even though it’s a little hard to let his collection of Pizza Hut memorabilia go, Carney says, “This is ideal for us.”
The Carneys were students at the University of Wichita, which became WSU.
Keith Pickus, WSU’s vice president for corporate and foundation relations, says the museum “is a way to highlight the quintessential entrepreneurial story of Wichita.”
Dan Carney’s wife, Gayla, began collecting Pizza Hut items about 15 years ago as a birthday surprise for her husband. She planned to redecorate his Wichita office with what she found.
First, she wrote a letter to a dozen friends who had been franchisees.
“The stuff that came in was, like, overwhelming,” she says.
Then she ran ads in eight newspapers nationally, including the Wall Street Journal. Dan Carney eventually learned what his wife was doing.
“Some of the things that came in, Dan would say, ‘I’ve never seen this before in my life.’ It got to be a real fun game.”
The WSU Foundation is in the midst of a $1.2 million campaign for the museum. More than half of the money has been raised so far.
Part of it will pay to move the building from its current space north of the Newman Center on campus to a new spot south of the Marcus Welcome Center.
Pickus says that’s where WSU’s admissions office is and where all prospective students visit.
“It’ll be a way to inspire future generations of entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s emblematic of what the entire Innovation Campus is all about.”
The Pizza Hut building will be renovated and receive a new red roof. The original roof wasn’t that color, but red roofs became the chain’s signature through the years.
About $500,000 of what the school raises will endow a student curator program, which will employ students to be docents and update the museum’s contents through the years.
In addition to Carney’s donation of mementos, WSU says Pizza Hut franchisee Fugate Enterprises made a major gift and franchisee Daland Corp. and Pizza Hut Corp. also made substantial donations.
Carney says he’s visited the Pizza Hut building over the years, particularly with potential franchisees.
“I’ve taken people over there,” he says. “It really hasn’t had any improvements on the inside.”
He says he’s talked with WSU on and off about doing something more with the building.
“We just kind of kicked it around.”
His collection features everything from recipes, pizza pans and other original items from the restaurant to merchandise related to the business, such as Pizza Hut Barbie and a miniature oven similar to an Easy-Bake Oven except that it’s in the shape of a Pizza Hut.
There will be oral histories of the business, too, along with some fun facts.
Even now, there’s accompanying text next to some Barbie items on display at Carney’s office explaining that he never imagined a Pizza Hut Barbie or even women working in a Pizza Hut one day, because “they would be too distracting.”
There’s also a framed record of the original Pizza Hut jingle.
“I think Dan said if they spent $500 on it, that would be exaggerating,” Gayla Carney says.
“I love the original (work) schedule in Dan’s handwriting,” she says. “I am telling you, bar none, every Pizza Hut franchisee that walks in … they go to that schedule, and they look at who Dan gave hours to and how many he gave himself.”
There’s so much material, she says, “I don’t know if they’ll have room, to be honest with you.”
The museum should open by late this year.
“I am so excited about it,” Gayla Carney says.
She says a museum is a great permanent home for the memorabilia.
“We want it to go someplace where it’s lasting. We are thrilled.”