Who founded Pizza Hut is a question I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching. Why would I spend so much time researching the founders of Pizza Hut? It all began with genealogy research I did years ago on the Bender family. The Benders of Bloomington, Indiana were my family. They were distant cousins, but through my mom’s family, we were related. Back in the 20th century, I met the patriarch of the family, Harold Bender. He took me to the family cemetery up in the hills.
Years later, I contacted his family to find out how he was doing. If alive, he would have been closing in on 100 years old. I was contacted by his son John Bender and was told that his dad was doing fine and getting around very well for his age. In exchanging emails, John mentioned that he once lived in Texas where he had opened up a number of Pizza Hut stores. Not too long ago, I was able to visit, along with my son, John’s father once again. It was a great visit. I was supposed to meet John in person too on that trip, but that didn’t happen. Hopefully, on our next trip out east, I’ll be able to do so.
One day, after my original correspondence with John Bender, I was reading up on the history of Pizza Hut for a blog post I was writing. I discovered that the founders of Pizza Hut, the founders mentioned in every single history of Pizza Hut, Dan and Frank Carney, had a business partner named John Bender from Bloomington, Indiana. Huh? That had to be my cousin. I think he’s a third cousin, but a cousin is a cousin. I found out later that this was indeed the same John Bender I had corresponded with.
What most Pizza Hut histories leave out about the founding of Pizza Hut is the role played by John Bender, the third founder of Pizza Hut. The Carney brothers did not have a pizza recipe. There are different stories of how they got the recipe John Bender had mastered, but here’s the official word, straight from the book, “The Pizza Hut Story.”
“We found a guy from Indiana that was an airman at McConnell, who lived at the same apartment complex as our sister and brother-in-law, and we talked with him, because we didn’t know how to make pizza,” Frank Carney says.
“He said he had some great pizza. His name was John Bender. We had him over, he made pizza, and we liked it. We said ‘If you bring the recipe, you can have a full-time job here with whatever time you can get out of the air base, and a third of the business.’ He did, and it went from there, and that’s where we got our pizza.”
source: WSU Alumni Magazine
The next time someone asks you who founded Pizza Hut, you can now tell them the rest of the story. The founders of Pizza Hut were Dan Carney, Frank Carney and John Bender. But of course, I would personally place those names in a different order. Recently, I’ve met many Pizza Hut employees, even some managers, and every single one of them says they know who founded Pizza Hut. Some say the names Dan and Frank Carney, others simply say it was two brothers. I hope one day, future Pizza Hut workers will have to read the Pizza Hut Story and find out exactly who founded Pizza Hut, and be able to recite all three names.
I want to thank Cary & Lillian Steiner and their pizza website Passion-4-Pizza for opening my eyes to who founded Pizza Hut. I thank them for their post which helped me realize that one of my cousins was there at a very important part of American (pizza) history. Check out Cary & Lillian’s Pizza Hut post here.