Brian Corn / The Wichita Eagle
Frank Carney, the co-founder of Pizza Hut and a Wichita State alumnus, died Wednesday morning from pneumonia. He was 82.
Frank was a 19-year-old freshman when he and his brother Dan Carney took a pizza recipe from a friend and a $600 loan from their mother and decided to go into business. They opened the doors of the first Pizza Hut building in 1958.
The Department of History Chair Jay Price, who was responsible for compiling the information for the Pizza Hut museum, said that the Carney brother’s main reason for opening up a business was to move up in the world.
“They were young men, at the University at Wichita, and they came of age at a time where the way you moved ahead in the world was to work in a big company,” Jay Price said.
Frank and Dan took an entrepreneurial course from Fran Jabara, which was a pivotal step in their journey.
“The Carneys were among [Jabara’s] very first students,” Price said. “That was a leg up certainly. . . [and there was] a reinforcement there.”
The business mindset was something that the Carney brothers grew up with. Frank and Dan’s father owned a grocery store and both of the brothers spent many years working there.
“The landlady said, ‘Hey, there’s this new innovative food called pizza.’ Which was pretty exotic for that time,” Price said. “They had pizza before but they never really made it, so they had to figure out, ‘Wait, what is this thing?’”
The brothers opened the first Pizza Hut in a 500-square-foot building on the corner of Kellogg and Bluff, staffed with family friends and fraternity brothers. They went from never making pizza before in their life to creating one of the most successful pizza chains in America.
A perfect team
Frank and Dan had different strengths, which made them the perfect duo, Price said.
Dan was more on the management side of the business and focused more on the structure. Frank, on the other hand, was the one who was the most comfortable with the spotlight.
“Frank was the more outgoing of the two, he tended to be a little more front of house,” Price said.
Frank led the business into relationships with others, with Price said was the biggest factor in their success.
Even though they had different roles, they worked well together because they understood the importance of relationships when building a successful business.
“They understand the value of relationships and building those connections they couldn’t have grown without,” Price said. “They were absolutely hands-on through the 60s and 70s— they were involved with everyday operations. They didn’t ponder it off to other managers, that’s just not how they functioned.
“The way they were able to succeed was through those personal connections.”
Frank’s business career may have started at Pizza Hut, but it didn’t end there. He took dives into rentals, automotive, and real estate, among others. He even had a part in the Papa John’s franchise, a direct competitor to Pizza Hut.
“When PizzaHut was sold to PepsiCo, he went into other ventures,” Price said. “An entrepreneurial mindset is always looking for other opportunities.”
At the end of the day, Price said the Carney brothers always looked for opportunities that would get them farther— even if that meant straying away from pizza.
“Pizza is how they made their mind, but they’re not pizza makers first,” Price said. “They were entrepreneurs first. . . they were willing to say ‘Well, I made pizza, but I can do other things too.’”
A mark on Wichita State University
It’s no secret that WSU prides itself on the success of Pizza Hut.
The original 500-square-foot Pizza Hut building was initially moved to campus from its original location in 1986. It was relocated once again in 2018 to WSU’s innovation campus and renovated into a museum after the WSU Foundation raised $1.2 million. The museum is still currently on campus located behind the Marcus Welcome Center.
“This is a city that embraces that entrepreneurship heritage and Pizza Hut is one of the top names always mentioned, that’s one of the if not the best-known franchising names that come out of Wichita,” Price said.
The story of the Carney brothers is also a remarkable one, Price said.
“These were ordinary people too, these are not individuals who are so remarkably different than anyone else so if they can do it, so can everyone else,” Price said. “I think that’s something WSU would like to highlight.”
The Carneys and the university have remained intertwined with each other throughout the years.
“The Carneys have remained loyal supporters of WSU,” Price said. “That relationship with the Carneys and the university have continued with both of them, they continue to support one another.”