Out of a room full of recipes, menus, sneakers and old photos came a museum that tells the story of entrepreneurship, restaurants, relationships and Wichita.
“Behind the scenes, you just had a pile of Pizza Hut stuff,” said Claire Weatherall, anthropology master's student. “It's really cool to see it finished, to see a completed product. Some of the stuff didn't seem to be particularly interesting, until you see it and you see the history of it . . . and throughout time how so much of it changed.”
The Pizza Hut Museum opened on Wichita State University's campus in April. The students who helped transform the promotional items and scrapbook artifacts – started by a donation of around 300 items from the Carney family - into a coherent story came from several academic disciplines. Their work continues when they talk to visitors about a date at Pizza Hut, show them the 1957 magazine story that helped inspire Wichita State alums Dan and Frank Carney, catalog new items and rotate displays.
“It's not an anthropology project; it's not a history project; it's not a business project,” said Jay Price, chair of the Department of History at Wichita State. “It's all of our work. Any museum like this is going to bring different skills sets. It's better because we're all together.”
The 500-square foot building was moved from its location at Kellogg and Bluff to Wichita State's campus in 1986. In September 2017, it moved to its current location at 3728 Perimeter Road, near the Marcus Welcome Center.
“There's a lot of anchoring to Wichita here, in that there's a lot of people from Wichita who know the Carneys and can personally attach to being there on opening day,” Weatherall said. “There's a really fun story that someone posted on the reflections board where she said her first date was at Pizza Hut and she was late because the waiter spilled water on her and her parents thought it was funny she was after curfew for such a silly reason."
The students who work to start and staff the museum bring business and marketing skills, art and graphic design, history and anthropology backgrounds. Chris Rempe of the National Institute for Aviation Research helped them use GoCreate, a Koch Collaborative, for 3D printing to create the museum's tactile library.
“It could be any students who's interested – business, communications,” said Rachelle Meinecke, who teaches Museum Studies courses for the Anthropology department. “There's a whole entrepreneur side of it we try to pull out.”
The museum is staffed by students who give tours, answer questions and continue to organize artifacts and create rotating displays. Meinecke plans to use the museum during her Museum Methods class.
“I think it will be really neat to take them there and talk about what it's like to start a museum from scratch,” she said. “This is going to be applicable to any museum these students work in or volunteer at.”
Gracie Tolley, a junior anthropology major, works twice a week at the museum, in addition to her curating duties at the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology in Neff Hall. She estimated there are more 100 artifacts stored on campus, ready for rotation into a new display. Donations, she said, are still coming in and it's not unheard of for a Pizza Hut franchisee or long-time Wichitan to visit the museum with a box of items to share.
“One of the big goals of the museum is to inspire students to take risks, start their own companies,” she said. “Keeping it fresh and what might actually keep people interested is important. We've got to think about our audience.”
Each item is “sessioned,” which includes numbering each item, documenting the condition of the item, describing the item and its location in storage and logging into the computer system.
“We have a number of shelves that are curated by students and it's one of those opportunities that people who want to pursue museum studies are going to get some hands-on work out of it,” Weatherall said. “For example, if a pizza pan has holes in it – we didn't do that, it came that way – and we have a record of that.”
Sydney Payne helped launch the museum as a marketing intern, part of her integrated marketing communications major. She led the museum's social media feeds and helped with the website. She brought her grand-parents, who ate at the original location, to the museum. Those type of experiences add to the lore around the building, highlighted by well-known anecdotes such as the $600 loan from their mother to get the brothers started, the sign with room for nine letters (Pizza Hut fit) and the bird's nest in the flue that delayed the 1958 opening.
“There's so many cool things in here to share, really cool stories to share,” Payne said. “One of the more fun stories was that on their original opening night they actually set the restaurant on fire. So, they had to redo the whole thing.”
The influence of the Carney brothers and their emphasis on family and relationships throughout the growth of the business emphasized for its entrepreneurship and business applications.
“Knowing how a small company of WSU alums who are involved in, really, reshaping the American food scene – that's important,” Price said. “It didn't just magically happen. At each step of the way, they had to confront problems. Some of those problems are engineering problems – how do you cook pizza in an oven that isn't really designed to do that. Some of it is a marketing and logistics issue. How do you create a unique identity? How do you create a brand? How do you develop customer loyalty?”