In Beverly Hills, these sad, wide, expressive eyes stare out at the busy King Georges Road rushing by, just like they have every day for the last 40 years. They don’t blink, even when the tears well up. They don’t close, even when all they want to do is sleep. Ever vigilant, they’re waiting for that sight that was once so familiar, so welcome – the happy family walking over the little bridge across the canal, looking forward to a special treat for dinner. Where else could we be talking about?
Back when it was still possible, it was a special treat. Home delivery was only introduced around 1985, so prior to that if you wanted Pizza Hut, you had to either pick it up yourself (effort) or eat in. Today, Pizza Hut is purely a pickup/delivery racket operating out of tiny, charmless shopfronts, but back then, Pizza Huts announced themselves with bold red roofs and hut-like restaurants. Why do you think they called it Pizza Hut?
Picture it – it’s a Friday night, your parents have just come home from work and they can’t be assed cooking. You know what you want, but you don’t want to nag them for it. And then suddenly…it happens. The TV captures everyone’s attention and says the unspoken:
The low-rent, completely not-fancy atmosphere of a Pizza Hut dining experience has yet to be replicated in this modern age. If regular restaurants are Dendy, Pizza Hut was Greater Union. For starters, the walls were all brick, and the chairs were all red. The first Pizza Hut in Australia was established in 1970, and all subsequent restaurants followed the design template laid down at Belfield. It showed; as late as 1999 you could still travel back in time to the 70s when dining at Pizza Hut. Don’t forget the restaurant-exclusive menu item, gingerbread man Pizza Pete, either. No other gingerbread man tastes like Pizza Pete.
In the 90s, with the advent of delivery and all-you-can-eat restaurants like Sizzler, Pizza Hut knew they had to step things up a notch. After all, they’d created delivery. They could destroy it. Unfortunately, by creating possibly the catchiest jingle in the history of advertising, they hadn’t made it easy for themselves:
So they introduced the Works, which was their attempt at all you can eat. Honestly, I think this is where Pizza Hut’s dine-in experience started to go wrong. Now, I know you’re thinking ‘hey, I remember all you can eat at Pizza Hut, and it was awesome’, and I’m not disagreeing. But before the advent of the Works, you’d just rock up, get a table, order a pizza and they’d bring it to your table. The Works required you to grab a plate and go up to the pizza bar, which was adorned with a variety of ‘popular toppings’. If you were a vegetarian, for instance, you had to put up with either plain cheese or thin crust vegetarian, and that’s IF someone hadn’t spilled meat on them, and IF wussy kids who couldn’t handle pineapple or other adventurous toppings had left any of the plainer varieties for you. And I won’t even get started on the obscene advertising for the Kids Works, which wouldn’t be allowed on TV these days:
Then you’d start wondering how often people coughed on these public pizzas. How often they were sneezed on. How long they’d been sitting there. They didn’t seem as hot anymore because they’d been sitting there so long. It didn’t take long for the whole experience, as well intentioned as it may have been, to become completely unpalatable. Add to that some kid having a noisy, messy birthday party in there every time you’d visit, and you were suddenly a delivery convert. Pizza Hut was Greater Union.
In 1999, Pizza Hut boasted 230 restaurants across Australia and NZ compared to just 185 delivery units. By 2002, there were less than 100 restaurants. Today, there’s the one on George Street in the city, and that’s about it. What happened? Pizza Hut claim that rising costs and diminished returns forced the closure of the restaurant arm of the company, and maybe that’s true. What happened to this particular Pizza Hut, though? Located right beside the ancient Beverly Hills Cinema, the two provided a wildly entertaining and impossibly well-matched double team for anyone wanting a night out in Beverly Hills (I’m sure those people are out there). But once the Pizza Hut closed, it was subjected to a variety of indignities, including being painted completely green, being used as a political headquarters for NSW MP Kevin Greene (groan [thanks, reader Catherine!]), and finally, being cut in half when the cinema expanded to include the former bank that sat between them.
The cinema had owned the bank for a while, filling it with arcade games and such, but when it took the opportunity to renovate and incorporate the building completely, Pizza Hut paid the price. The cinema’s power generator now occupies the southeastern corner of the restaurant, and the insides are exposed to the elements. Why not just get rid of it completely? Instead of putting the space to good use, the corpse of the Beverly Hills family dining experience is left to fester, acting as a reminder to us all of a time when $5 would get you all you could eat, and when home delivery was seen as the anti-social option. It still is.