The architect who designed Pizza Hut’s ‘red roof’ restaurants made a ton of money thanks to an unusual deal
(NEXSTAR) – What do architects Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M. Pei and Antoni Gaudi have in common? Well, it’s likely you’ve never eaten a Stuffed Crust Pizza in any of their buildings.
The same can’t be said of Richard D. Burke, however.
Burke is responsible for the design of every red-roofed Pizza Hut restaurant throughout the world, having created the concept in the late ‘60s for Dan and Frank Carney, the two brothers who founded Pizza Hut. But Burke — a fraternity brother of Dan and Frank Carney during their days at Wichita State University — had almost priced himself out of a job after the Carneys approached him for his services, according to Pizza Hut.
“As the story goes, Burke had originally charged the brothers a hefty upfront fee that the fledgling pizza start-up wasn’t able to scrape together,” the company wrote in a 2015 blog post. “Instead, they offered Burke $100 per store built using his design, never guessing that Pizza Hut would become the global company that it is today.”
Estimates vary as to how many “red roof” Pizza Hut locations sprung up over the following decades, but Curbed.com once reported around 6,300 as of 2004 — which would’ve made Burke a millionaire several times over. A representative for Pizza Hut was not available to confirm how much Burke earned from the deal.
In 2016, however, there were only around 3,000 traditional locations still standing by the time Pizza Hut announced it was ditching the iconic architecture for a sleeker, more modern design to support increased demand for delivery, the Dallas Morning News reported.
“Obviously, it’s an iconic design that we will always have elements of in everything we do,” Yum! Brands CEO David Gibbs told the outlet of Pizza Hut’s signature red-roofed buildings in 2016. “The red roof stands for Pizza Hut in the eyes of consumers. … But in many cases, the business just demands that we move to a bigger, more contemporary asset.”
Even still, Burke’s unmistakable contributions to modern architecture can still be appreciated across the nation — if you know where to look. Plenty of former Pizza Hut locations have been purchased or repurposed for use as entirely different restaurants, businesses or even churches, albeit while retaining those unmissable roofs. Several online resources have also become available for folks wishing to find, or share photos of, a local business that was clearly once a Pizza Hut, including Used to Be a Pizza Hut, which allows users to search for former Huts in their area.
Australian photojournalists Chloe Cahill and Ho Hai Tran — two self-described ‘90s kids who found Pizza Hut to be a “place of wonder” in their youth — even compiled a photographic collection of these former Huts into a book, “Pizza Hunt,” released in 2016.
To them, the works of Wright, Pei and Gaudi might even pale in comparison to the remaining Pizza-Hut-shaped businesses designed by Burke.
“Those that remain, those that have not been demolished or are not slated for demolition, exist in the space where the unremarkable and the unforgettable meet,” the book’s official website reads. “Although they have been repurposed, re-painted or relocated, these buildings are still readily recognizable and call to mind a time of dine-in fast food, all you can eat pizza and self-serve sundaes.”
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