The Sons of Pizza

Frank and Dan Carney opened the first Pizza Hut restaurant in 1958

Frank and Dan Carney opened the first Pizza Hut restaurant in 1958

There are two types of people - those who give up, and those who really do everything, no matter what, to make their dreams and wishes come true.

This is the fascinating story of the brothers Dan and Frank Carney, the founders of the most famous pizza restaurant chain in the world - Pizza Hut. This is a story full of turbulent twists and controversial decisions they had made through their long and hard journey in the field of food franchise. The older brother Dan, who was born in 1931, while still a small child he started working in the shop of his father who was a local grocer. This experience brought him to the conviction that there is a great potential in food market, especially in making pizza. Dan and his brother, Frank, who was seven years younger, studied business at Wichita State University in their hometown.

Everything began when one of their friends suggested opening a pizza restaurant in their hometown of Wichita, Kansas, USA. This happened in 1958 when pizza was considered as food for the underclass people because of the fact that pizza was brought by the newly arrived Italian emigrants. That’s made the difference – the nonconformist, restless and rebellious spirit of the brothers. It was a breakthrough!

The whole story started with a borrowed 600$ from their mother. They purchased secondhand equipment and rented a small bar which they overhauled. There was space for only 25 people. The tale behind the name Pizza Hut is also promising – there are two versions. The myth says that the birth of the name happened on a family meeting. All of them were sure that the word “pizza” should be in the brand name and their mother came up with the word “hut” because of the roof top of the bar they had rented. The second version is related to the sign they purchased which did not have enough space for a longer word – so they chose “hut”.

Pizza Hut Restaurant

Pizza Hut Restaurant

At that time, brands such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, were dominating the fast-food market and a good example was given to Dan. On the other hand, he was interested in the field of franchising and here’s what he shares:

There were no courses on franchising. In fact, franchising was pretty much relegated to the auto business at that time. Still, it gave me the background to form my own company, and basically our own franchise agreement, which evolved over time. Today you have entrepreneurship classes, and all kinds of different courses that would pretty much give you the basic background to go into business for yourself.


After the great beginning, they started franchising in next year in Topeka, Kansas. Next 10 years were a unique success for the company and over 310 restaurants were opened, even they had conquered the Canadian market. Their growth was based on the combination of quality and unexceptionable customer service.


I’m just a regular guy who worked smart and made some LUCK. L.U.C.K. means – Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. When you work hard and smart you get lucky. To build a successful, growing company you need all the luck you can get.Frank Carney said during a Leadership Skills seminar in his hometown Wichita.

Only after 13 years after the start of the company, the Pizza Hut chain became number one in the world – ‘70s seemed like a dream to Carney’s. Frank used to say that this period of time was "the best of my career there".  One fact changed the course of the history – the leadership of the company decided to put the company for a public offering. Тhe year was 1969. That really confused Dan who made an important decision of his life – to give the president’s post to Frank in 1973."I didn't want to spend 18 hours a day from now on heading the company up, but Frank was chomping at the bit to do it Dan once said. Dan continued his work in Pizza Hut as a member of the director’s board, but after years he decided to become a president and a member of several foundations in his hometown in Kansas. On the other hand, Frank acquired a useful knowledge for a successful strategic development from the Young Presidents Association which helped him reach full stature of the company. By 1977 Pizza Hut had over 3400 local and international restaurants – the number was still growing.

This solid background and the universal acknowledgement they had, provoked such a great interest in big and wealthy companies that could not be resisted. Thereafter a contract between the Carney’s and PepsiCo, which was one of the biggest and richest soda producing companies at the time, was concluded. The deal was worth $300 million!


Frank stayed on with Pizza Hut through 1980. Then, a new period in his life began, full of unexpected moments. He became a sport-car racer and even won fourth place in the race at Daytona. He invested most of his money in companies which did not have the success of “Pizza Hut” and by 1993 Frank’s millions were all gone. "I never thought it would turn out as disastrous as it did" Carney said. This was the worst period of his life. But the relations he built through the years helped him again – a former Pizza Hut board member offered him the position of a franchise manager of several restaurants for the competitive company “Papa John”.  Frank could not resist the chance and he became a franchisee. Irreconcilable and vital spirit of Carney called again. "I realized then that (becoming a franchisee) was going to be a pretty easy decision." By 2001, he owned over 130 restaurants based in Arizona, Kansas, California, Texas and Hawaii.


Today, “Pizza Hut” chain restaurant offers vast variety of pizza, pasta, salad and many more products that satisfy people in over 90 countries in the world with more than 11000 stores. Now, Pizza Hut is a part of one of the biggest umbrella brands – Yum! Brands, Inc. which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Wing Street restaurants all around the globe.


Nowadays, Frank is in the board of Intrust Financial Corp., Intrust Bank, N.A. His children, Trevor and Tressa Carney, are also part of “Papa John” company, together with their father. Frank has eight children and eleven grandchildren. Dan Carney is continuing his work in the field of charity, non-profit organizations and civil service. He is in the board of many foundations such as Wichita Red Cross, Guadalupe Clinic and Wichita Community Foundation. He is a happy father of six children and he has eleven grandchildren.