Dinner at the Pizza Hut family restaurant was a treat for children who grew up in the 1980's and 90's. Housed under the iconic red triangular roof, the all-you-can-eat buffet was a mouth-watering presentation of endless greasy opportunities.
Fat crust Hawaiian slices sweating under the heat lamp, buttery garlic bread like shining like mounds of sunshine, and of course the dessert bar, where concoctions of green jelly, chocolate soft serve and mini-marshmallows were came alive.
But like Goosebumps novels and CheezeTV, where are these childhood memories now?
A New Zealand-raised, Sydney-based couple wanted to know just that, and after years of looking for old Pizza Hut huts, photographers, Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill have recently published a book, Pizza Hunt.
The book features the “second lives” of Pizza Hut eateries, and captures a range of present business endeavours housed in the stand-alone, trapezoid windowed and bulky red roofed buildings of yore. These unique looking IGA supermarkets, Chinese restaurants, radio stations, funeral homes and even gospel churches is like seeing an fully fledged adult wearing their old Ninja Turtles t-shirt, which is both ridiculous but aesthetically cool, ironic fashion.
Tran, 31, is the son of Vietnamese migrants who sought refuge in New Zealand after fleeing war torn Vietnam by boat. His childhood visits to Pizza Hut were seldom and therefore, always an exciting time.
“Growing up in a relatively small town meant that the local Pizza Hut was something of a ‘hub’,” he told SBS. “For me, visits there were rare and treasured and usually coincided with a birthday or other special occasion.”
Tran and Cahill's Pizza Hunt venture started when they stumbled across a Salvation Army in Sydney complete with the iconic windows and a contrasting red roof. The pair were captivated by how much the building had retained the features and overall character of the fast-food joint and they began “hunting" for more.
'Each new hut we found had a different identity or was in a new guise, yet they all seemed to hint at their shared history and call back to that golden era of dine-in fast food when the original restaurants were operational.'
“Each new hut we found had a different identity or was in a new guise,” says Tran. “Yet they all seemed to hint at their shared history in some way and call back to that golden era of dine-in fast food when the original restaurants were operational.”
Tran and Cahill were driven by historical preservation, as these pieces of tangible pop-culture are fast becoming demolished. After having success in a crowd funding campaign, the photographers set across Australia, New Zealand and the ‘home of the hut’, the US to pay homage to Richard D. Burke’s slowly dying multi-purpose architecture.
“During our travels, people would hear about our project and share their memories of these franchises,” Cahill told SBS. “We met one man in New Zealand whose dream was to turn the hut into his home, such was his connection to the building! Apparently he never quite made the dream a reality, but that would have been the first hut-home we’d have seen.
“We actually did see one hut which was still operational in Chicago in the US,” she says. “But the business model had changed and they no longer have the ‘all-you-can-eat’ set up of former times.”
Tran says that each photograph has its own story, as they required a different journey to the location.
“One of our favourite images is the Copycat hut which graces the cover of the first edition books,” he says, “We weren't sure exactly what we would find at the location in suburban Pennsylvania and we suspected that the building had already been demolished, like many of the other huts. We always shoot the hut at sunrise and so the drive out to the location, before dawn, was in darkness and as we approached we could see the vague outline of the hut and we were relieved to see it was still there.”
The work in Pizza Hunt evokes character from these unique buildings. Not only can audiences appreciate such contemporary and radical architecture, the photos address the monomania of an industry based around pleather booths and refills. What is now a car rental business or a liquor store, Pizza Hunt demonstrates how these buildings will always be perceived as a popular family restaurant where visits were treasured.
The hunt for Tran and Cahill still continues, as they are still searching for more re-purposed huts to add to their collection. Any member of the public who knows of a hidden ruby red gem somewhere on the globe, these two want to know about it.