Western New York is filled with some of the best independent pizzerias on the planet, so the minute you mention a fondness for any kind of pizza chain, such as Pizza Hut, people get all riled up.
But our sentimental feelings about the Hut have little to do with the food. They're tied to the times we had in the cozy brick, wood and gingham restaurants of old – restaurants that are going away in earnest.
Not that the food is bad (that lunch buffet, am I right?) but the old-fashioned Pizza Huts, with their distinctive red pavilion roofs outside and dated brown tile floors inside, are like a time capsule filled with some of our best childhood memories.
There are 10 dine-in Pizza Hut restaurants left in Western New York. You'll have to go to places like Cheektowaga, Niagara Falls, Lockport and Yorkshire to find a Pizza Hut with the traditional roof and varying remnants of the old days left inside. That number could drop to zero, now that Pizza Hut has announced it will focus on takeout and delivery-only locations and plans to close 500 dine-in restaurants; including the East Aurora store that has already been shuttered.
We can wax nostalgic all we'd like, but the reason our beloved bastions of comfort are closing is because people don't spend money there anymore.
Pizza Hut's red roof layout was created in the 1960s, before pizza delivery was a thing. They were designed when dining with family was the norm. But now – like rotary phones, cars without seat belts and Frank Stallone – they just don't work anymore.
The underperforming dine-in part of the business is dragging down the success of its carry-out and delivery sales. So Pizza Hut is trimming off the unprofitable restaurants like a bad mullet and focusing on more convenient, get-in-and-get-out formats.
The latest Pizza Hut concepts focus on takeout and delivery. "Pizza Hut Express" and "The Hut" are fast-food models with limited menus and a different product mix than traditional Pizza Hut restaurants. The Pizza Hut Expresses at Target stores in Orchard Park and Depew are perfect examples of the company's new direction. There, you can wheel your cart full of dog food, curtains and tin foil through the checkout lanes straight into Pizza Hut, grab your pizza and continue on out the door. It's just how people do dinner these days.
It's the same reason platforms like Grubhub (which some Pizza Huts use) and Uber Eats are gaining popularity. Busy people want to keep doing whatever it is they're doing, push a button and watch their food appear. A big, empty dining room does nothing to achieve that.
Pizza Hut began phasing out the vintage red-roof restaurants years ago, but the latest announcement gave sentimentalists a new sense of urgency.
The old-school Pizza Huts may have gotten rid of their jukeboxes and tabletop Pac-Man games years ago. But the red plastic cups with the little bumps and the high-backed, wooden booths are still there. The Book-It program, where you can earn free personal pan pizzas through the sheer power of reading, is still going strong. There is plenty of magic left to transport you back to your childhood, and enough to help you build new warm fuzzies with your own children.
But that's part of the problem for Pizza Hut. Nostalgia doesn't pay the bills.
A Pizza Hut employee in Yorkshire said sales aren't what they used to be and, in order for the restaurant to stay in business, people will have to do more than just reminisce.
"If you want to keep your Pizza Hut, you have to go eat there," they said.