Pizza Hut is, apparently, something we’re nostalgic for now

Illustration for article titled Pizza Hut is, apparently, something we’re nostalgic for now
Photo: Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group (Getty Images)

Throughout the relatively brief history of mass-produced food, no recipe tweak has ever made it past the diehards unscathed. Skittles changed its lime flavor to green apple in 2013 and the wound is still fresh on the palates of Skittle enthusiasts. McDonald’s switched from a fried apple pie to a baked one all the way back in 1992, and fans of the original have been trying to rip a hole in space-time ever since, longing to return to a universe in which fast food didn’t sacrifice flavor in the name of “health.” And Twitter is now awash in the rosy nostalgia of 1980s/90s Pizza Hut, a place that, it turns out, we all wish to return to for one reason or another—because the tacit agreement is that when it comes to our favorite brands, Change Is Bad.

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The latest wave of sentimentality kicked off with this evocative image and scene description, courtesy of Ricky Cobb (of the Super 70s Sports Podcast):

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Turns out it wasn’t just the (superior) personal pan pizzas of yore that thousands of Twitter users have been daydreaming about since late last century—although that’s definitely a huge part of it, since the 2019 recipe revamp wasn’t a change for the better. It’s the entire vibe of 1990s Pizza Hut that so many of us wish to recapture. Our current era of ultra-bright, nearly antiseptic fast casual settings like Sweetgreen and MOD Pizza stand in stark contrast to the dark (nearly dingy, even!), carpeted dining room and exposed-brick walls of vintage Pizza Hut, which allowed kids to feel like they were eating lunch in a dive bar. Even the light fixtures evoked a tavern setting:

And of course, who could forget the BOOK IT! program, a nationwide literacy initiative founded in 1984 that lets students turn their reading progress at school into a cheesy reward at Pizza Hut: one personal pan pizza when you present your reading certificate. Many, many grown adults on Twitter highlighted the inextricable relationship in their mind between Pizza Hut and K-6 reading assignments, which the BOOK IT! program savvily used to its promotional advantage:

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So there you have it, folks: Pizza Hut is still beloved—if only for the space it occupies in our earliest memories—and the BOOK IT! program is still incentivizing literacy with carbs, as it should.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

duke-of-kent
Duke of Kent

I was just thinking about this and wondering if any Pizza Huts were “dine-in” anymore (I mean, pre-COVID, that is). I hadn’t been in a Hut since I graduated out of the BookIt program, but ooh boy, the experience back then was so totally different from the current delivery/takeaway experience.

There was the exposed brick and the Tiffany-style stained-glass lamps already mentioned. There were also the interesting black-and-white pictures around the walls. The tables had tablecloths (waxed checkerboard patterned tablecloths, but tablecloths nonetheless). And it took a long time (from a kid’s point of view) for the food to be prepared, so it added to the anticipation and made it feel more special when it arrived.

I was (and still am) a voracious reader, so I always had a supply of BookIt coupons. My parents used to get baked pasta dishes (I think their favorite was called “cavatini supreme”) while I enjoyed my personal pan pizza.

Then on the way out, you’d get a peppermint hard candy — which my family still calls “Pizza Hut mints” to this day.

For a small child, this was an event!

Are there still Pizza Huts with dining rooms? If so, have they retained the ambiance? Can you even still get a personal pan pizza or a cavatini supreme?