Sunday, January 31, 2021

No One Out-Buffets The Hut



Pizza Hut
179 E. Cocoa Beach Causeway, Cocoa Beach, FL

     Once an icon of the American roadside, it's becoming a sad reality that the famed red-roof Pizza Hut is becoming harder and harder to find. While sitting down for a family pizza night under one of the famous stained glass lamps was a Friday night tradition for many, unfortunately, the pizza business has changed. With delivery and carry-out options taking over the vast majority of pizza sales across the United States in recent years, dine-in pizza began a slow decline. While finding a freestanding, red-roofed hut isn't super uncommon yet, these are getting much rarer by the day. As the years have worn on, there's become such an increase in discarded huts out there, that's it's become a thing to pick out UTBAPHs (Used to be a Pizza Huts) in towns across the nation, seeing how these iconic buildings have been repurposed in countless ways. While Pizza Hut and its franchisees have been slowly adapting to changes in the pizza industry and converting/relocating many older locations into carry-out only ones, a red hut-shaped roof will sometimes peek out in the distance behind a bank and a gas station, taking us back to a day when it was fun to go out for a pizza - much like we can still do here in Cocoa Beach. 


     Pizza Hut and its red roof found its way to Cocoa Beach in 1986, building on a small piece of land at the end of the Route 520 Causeway, just two blocks from the beach. Pizza Hut's placement makes it a very convenient place to stop for lunch or dinner after a long beach day, and that's probably a contributing factor to the longstanding success of this location. Being at the end of the main causeway into Cocoa Beach, the stretch of beach just steps from this building is one of the busiest in town, and Pizza Hut is the first thing you see pulling out of the parking lot. Between the visitors and the locals, this place has been able to keep itself going for 35 years now. The building itself has seen some minor upgrades since it first opened, but it still has the classic Pizza Hut feel to it.


     While the red-roof hut buildings are getting harder to find, what got me up here to visit this particular location was to experience another dying Pizza Hut feature: the lunch buffet. While fairly common back in the day, the Pizza Hut lunch buffets have begun to slip into obscurity. From what I understand, the lunch buffet isn't even an official Pizza Hut concept anymore, but franchisees that still have buffet equipment in their older locations can still offer one if they wish. Since the buffets are semi-unofficial these days, Pizza Hut's website doesn't mention if a location still offers one, so you have to do a little digging to figure out where the operational Pizza Hut buffets are. Interestingly, I never knew the Cocoa Beach Pizza Hut had a buffet until a year or so ago. I was originally planning to drive to St. Cloud to their Pizza Hut buffet for this post, until I found pictures on Google showing there was still one in Cocoa Beach (as of January 2020, anyway, when I made this visit - the last Pizza Hut buffet in Brevard County). That discovery cut my drive in half mileage-wise, which I was happy about! When I made my Pizza Hut buffet visit in January 2020, the remaining buffets in Central Florida (that I knew of) were this one, St. Cloud, New Smyrna Beach, S. OBT in Orlando (across from the Florida Mall), and Haines City (although there may have been a few more floating around in the greater Orlando area, but those listed were the ones I found online in my buffet search). However, with all the pandemic stuff going on, I have no idea what the fate of any of the Pizza Hut buffets locally have been since, not even here in Cocoa Beach, so I can't say with certainty if any of them are still open at all. Buffets in Florida are open again at full capacity, so there's a chance some may have been revived, but I don't know (and the fact Pizza Hut wasn't officially on-board with the concept any more doesn't help the fate of these any). At least I got to visit this one in January 2020, back before the world fell apart, and the fate of the buffets went up in the air.

     Anyway, my babbling aside, I'm sure we're all feeling a little hungry right about now, so let's head inside and eat:

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

      Stepping inside, I wouldn't call the dining room the best example of modern decor, but it has seen upgrades from the days of Pizza Hut's trapezoid windows, wood paneling, and stained glass lamps (as fun as all those things were). Still though, this place has that cozy, warm feeling a Pizza Hut dining room has always had.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

     Anyway, stepping through the front doors, the dining area expands out to your left, with the buffet bars straight ahead. To the right is a short hallway to the bathrooms, with the kitchen just beyond that. The photo above looks from the dining room back toward the entry area, where the hostess stands to bring you to a table.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

     Here we have a better view of the front of the dining room, looking toward the buffet. The photo above, as well as the two before it, I took from Google Maps, as I didn't get any spectacular overview shots of the dining room myself. Even if I did manage to pull off a shot like this, my phone camera would have taken in all the glare from the sun shining through the windows and done something funky with the lighting, so the photo wouldn't have turned out as crisp as the one above. While we've had these nice overview shots to start off our look at the interior, we now return to my funky photos for the remainder of this post:


     Speaking of my phone doing strange things with the lighting, here's a perfect example of that! Looking toward the main entrance, my phone washed out a lot of this picture from the glare, leading to a rather dark looking scene near the buffet. Immediately to my left from this vantage point was the kitchen, as well as the counter with the cash register.


     Before we get to the food, we'll take a quick walk around the dining room. Pictured here is the back of the dining room, looking away from the buffet. Rows of booths line the front and back of the dining room, as well as the partition in the middle.


     Behind the partition was a space with some larger tables, reserved for bigger groups.


     While I was here, a large group of construction workers from a nearby project came in on their lunch break, filling up one of the big tables back here, which was certainly a nice little rush for the place. Besides the construction workers, there were a few other people dining in as well, the entire dine in crowd arriving for the buffet. Without the buffet, I really don't know how much of a dine-in business this place would have in the early afternoon hours, although the pictures on Google seem to suggest the dine-in business does pick up going into the dinnertime/evening hours, probably when the beaches begin to clear out for the night. I believe the time between the noon lunch rush and the evening dinner hours are some of the slowest during the day for restaurants, with Pizza Hut coming up with the buffet concept to not only take advantage of the lunch rush, but also boost business during the slower afternoon hours. A lunch buffet certainly seems more attractive to an individual on lunch break than having to order a whole pizza (and in turn, having to do something with the leftovers).


     Now that we've had our taste of the dining room, it's time we get to taste the food itself! The lunch buffet consisted to these two food bars near the restaurant's front entrance - one bar for the hot food, and the other for the cold salad bar.


     While it looks rather small and is only offered for two hours a day, the staff here was doing a really good job of keeping the buffet full and replenishing food that ran out. In scouring Google reviews of other Pizza Hut buffets online, I know one if the biggest complaints is that Pizza Hut has a terrible time of keeping the buffet well-stocked. I'm pleased to say that wasn't the case the entire time I was here, and I was quite impressed at how well run the buffet at this location was.


     The hot food bar consisted of six different pizzas, baked noodles, and garlic bread sticks from what I remember. Of the six pizzas, one was a dessert pizza, one was plain cheese, and the other four had various toppings that would continuously change out as the pizzas were replaced.


     Turning our attention to the salad bar, well, it's a pretty standard salad bar. Some salad mix, additional toppings, and dressing made up the spread here, with a really good pre-mixed Cesar salad in the bowl at the top left corner of the image.


     Now that we've piled our plates high, let's head over to our table. I was seated at a booth not too far from the front door, I believe the booth behind the one pictured here. I actually took this photo to showcase some of the local flare decor on the walls, which there was no shortage of in this place! The wall space between the windows was covered in various pictures and knickknacks relating to the beach, Florida, local sports teams and colleges, and surfing (which Cocoa Beach is famous for).


     Settled in at our table, here's one last look at the buffet before we dig in:


     I visited this place with the intent to share my experiences with you guys, so of course I had to sample a little bit of everything (yes, that was how I justified all that pizza!). A food photographer I am not, but the way I put everything on the plate makes it seem like I was trying to do something fancy, which I wasn't going for - that was just a coincidence!


     If you couldn't tell by now, pizza and pasta is a huge weakness of mine, so I have no problems going out and sampling some for the sake of the blog! Like I said before, for what looked like such a small buffet, the variety and quality was very good, and I liked how the pizza toppings kept changing out to keep the variety interesting. For my second plate I went a bit more adventurous with my topping choices, getting a slice of Hawaiian pizza and one with sausage and banana peppers on it. I know a lot of people think putting pineapple on pizza is weird, but I like it.


     While I really enjoyed my lunch, I can't forget about dessert! On the buffet was a dessert pizza, which was half apple topping, half strawberry. The slice I took was from the apple side, and is essentially of the same style as the dessert pizza Cici's usually puts out on their buffet (if you're familiar with that). Speaking of Cici's (and while we're on the topic of pizza buffets), 2020 wasn't very kind to them either. It was just announced earlier this week that they declared bankruptcy, however, their bankruptcy plan was initiated as part of a pre-packaged, expedited bankruptcy deal with a new owner already in mind. While it sounds bad, Cici's will continue to operate as part of their turnaround plan, with no mass closures or anything like that as a result of the bankruptcy (although 77 of Cici's nearly 400 locations prior to the pandemic did succumb to the pressures of 2020). While pizza buffets were facing issues prior to 2020, the pandemic restrictions really didn't help that business model much.


     I enjoyed my Pizza Hut buffet experience, and I was happy to discover there was one still operating relatively close to where I live. However, as I mentioned before, with all the madness of 2020, I don't know if the Cocoa Beach Pizza Hut ever reopened the buffet, and recent reviews don't shed any light on an answer to that question either. Next time I'm up in Cocoa Beach I should swing by here to find out, but at least I was able to slip in this one visit before the world spiraled into madness.


     Before we leave, here's one last look at the Pizza Hut building, this photo looking at the back of the restaurant. While it didn't appear to be open at the time of my visit (as it looks like someone was using it as a parking spot), this place did have a drive thru window. Even if this window wasn't used much prior, maybe having this window came in handy the last few months as restaurants began to push drive-thru and carryout options even more.


     After eating all that pizza, a nice long walk along the beach sounds like a good way to finish off this post. I included the map above to show everyone just how close Pizza Hut is to the beach, the red pin marking the location of the restaurant.


     A nice lunch followed by a pleasant day for a walk on the beach, a win-win if you ask me!


     This picture looking out into the Atlantic will finish out our post on the Cocoa Beach Pizza Hut. While the fate of the buffet itself may be a bit uncertain these days, the restaurant overall seems to do good business due to its location, which is nice to see. So even if 2020 did happen to out-buffet the hut, the hut still stands here in Cocoa Beach to serve out pizza regardless, and hopefully that will continue to for many years more.

     So that's all I have for today's post (and I apologize for any pizza craving you may be having right now). Until next time,

AFB

17 comments:

  1. Cool find. These Pizza Hut buffet locations are getting rarer everyday. I remember going to a Pizza Hut dine in location a few years ago, but iirc they didn't have a buffet, just table service. Sadly that location closed last summer.

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    1. They really are. This is one of only 3 remaining stand alone huts in the county I live in, and the only one of the three with a buffet (as of my visit, anyway). That’s unfortunate the Pizza Hut you went to closed, but that’s sadly the trend with them.

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  2. Yum! I remember going to a Pizza Hut Buffet way back in the early 90's. I think they had one in Lynn Haven actually at the site of this place originally:

    1815 Lynn Haven Pkwy
    https://maps.app.goo.gl/9PEExpUFmkzpgRac6

    . My Gainesville Pizza Hut on Archer Rd is a dine-in location, but doesn't offer a buffet anymore. As of a year ago the Pizza Hut on 441 in Alachua had a buffet, but of course with the pandemic I'm not sure anymore. Hopefully this Cocoa location will last many more years.

    That dessert pizza looked delicious!

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    1. It looks like a lot has happened at that property in Lynn Haven after Pizza Hut left. The 2007 street view shows an Arabian style building there, and then the Mexican restaurant there today. A lot of different cuisine has gone through that property! That’s neat you still have some classic Pizza Hut locations near you, including one that (may still have) the buffet! The dessert pizza was good too!

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    2. Oh yes! That was the Taj Palace, an Indian cuisine place, but they were very pricey from what I remember and didn't last long.

      I actually looked at the Bay County Proprty Appraiser site and it showed that Pizza Hut bought the property in 1986, opening a restaurant there, the same year as this Cocoa Beach location. I can't remember when it closed though. I wanna say 1999 or 2000.

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  3. I had been wanting to try the Pizza Hut buffet in my town, but before I ever got around to it, the place closed -- unfortunately a rather common occurrence for me and restaurants I want to showcase on the blog but keep putting off, haha. We still have one red roof Hut in the county, and I'm pretty sure it offered a buffet before the pandemic, but like you said who knows what may have happened to it since then. That's another thing I should check out one day, but I'm not really in any rush to go to a buffet these days! If anything I'd rather have Cici's -- I do like their buffet (even though I'd never consider takeout from there... the food is fine for buffet standards, but actual pizza standards are different, in my mind :P ). Oh, and I agree with you on pineapple -- actually just had some thin crust pepperoni and pineapple from Domino's last night, a favorite! Also hand tossed pepperoni and mushroom, and pepperoni and banana peppers. In case anyone needed to know the full menu on our dinner table. :P

    Back on topic, I didn't realize the buffet was no longer an official Pizza Hut offering. That certainly doesn't bode well for the ones remaining. That said, I am excited by the Pizza Hut Classic concept, and hope that it grows in size -- even if only a little bit, since I can imagine there's a reason the concept has been mainly dying off in recent decades. Besides how cool it is, though, the main reason I bring up the concept is to ask, shouldn't that have a buffet, too?! Not much of a "classic" Pizza Hut if it doesn't have a buffet (in my opinion, anyway :P )

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    1. I remember you posting before about your old Pizza Hut, after it closed. It’s a shame it closed before you got to it, as I’m sure you would have liked the buffet. Hopefully the other dine-in hut near you revives the buffet so you can try it someday, so you can’t add that to your list of restaurants closing before you can try them.

      Cici’s buffet and Pizza Hut’s buffet are both good options for me (as I like both), but if they were across the street from each other and I had to choose one, I’d probably lean toward Cici’s, just because they have a little more variety. Takeout from Cici’s has always been an odd concept for me. Ordering a pizza for takeout from Cici’s is basically the same price as the buffet, so it makes more sense to do the buffet instead (as you get the variety). Most people have Cici’s ingrained in their mind as a buffet, so even taking quality out of the picture, most people probably wouldn’t think to order a pizza from Cici’s either for that reason alone. About the only times I ever have pineapple on pizza is at a buffet – as no one else in my family likes pineapple! Sounds like you had a good pizza spread for dinner the other night though!

      Pizza Hut corporate never mentions the buffets in any official advertising anymore (or lists it as a feature on the main website, even if a location offers one), which seems to suggest they’ve severed ties from the concept. Any advertising mentioning a buffet is something that comes directly from the franchisee, basically leaving what remains of the concept in their hands. I know you and some others online have dug up a handful of those Pizza Hut Classic locations, which were interesting. I think there are some places where dine-in pizza can do well, so hopefully Pizza Hut lets the “classic” option be a choice for franchisees, but yeah, a buffet would really enhance the “classic” part of the concept!

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  4. Part I:

    These types of Pizza Huts are certainly iconic. I'm glad that you were able to capture one! You didn't just capture it, but you were able to enjoy the pizza! Pizza Hut would not be my first choice when it comes to take-out pizza, but it's not bad. I'd certainly choose it over Cici's, lol.

    Back in the day, we had a pizza chain here in Houston called Mr. Gatti's Pizza that was kind of like a sit-down Pizza Hut, but they were a little more fun. Mr. Gatti's Pizza Wikipedia page indicates that they had locations in Florida at one time so I don't know if you remember them. I think Mr. Gatti's left Houston a few years ago, but it looks like one might be opening soon in Je's part of Houston. I don't know if it'll be take-out only or what.

    The last time I actually ate inside a Pizza Hut was way back in around 2005. It was actually in Germany! It was probably in Bavaria somewhere, but I can't remember where exactly I was in Germany. Most Germans back then spoke at least some English, especially in tourist areas, so ordering food was not much of a problem. Oddly enough, the waitress at the Pizza Hut did not know English! Fortunately, I speak enough broken German that I could make my order, lol. It was pretty good. I find that American fast food often tastes better outside of the US! I've eaten American fast food in some pretty strange places, lol.

    While we still have some Pizza Huts of this design in Houston, I'm not sure if any of them still have red roofs. We had one which had a red roof as late as late 2019, but a 2020 Google Streetview image of the place indicates that it was renovated. I'm not sure if the interior was renovated as well, but the Google images of the place show that it was even more retro than the Cocoa Beach location. Link: https://goo.gl/maps/AMGdPKE4hnoWF66m6

    As far as Pizza Hut buffets in Houston, I'm not aware of there being any, but that does not mean they don't exist. We have so many Pizza Huts here that I really can't tell you much about most of them outside of how they look on the outside. There is a small town NW of Houston called Hempstead which does have a Pizza Hut buffet. It's actually an outparcel for an old Discount City-era Walmart which is still operating. There used to be a Factory Stores of America (VF Outlet) nearby, but it looks like that might have closed in the last few months, sadly. Link: https://goo.gl/maps/fL28BW5zXU417nyC7

    Back in around 2009 when I was working in The Woodlands area of Houston, I noticed there was a Godfather's Pizza that was still in business in Spring (near The Woodlands). It's actually near the Old Town Spring shopping district which is really, really neat. You should check that out on Google Maps if you get a chance. They have a classical music CD shop there which is really neat. Anyway, I had not seen a Godfather's in Houston in many years so I decided to go in and order a pizza. I'm 99% sure it was a recycled Pizza Hut because the location looked so much like an old Pizza Hut. They still had a buffet as well. Sadly, the Godfather's closed not long after that, but someone on Flickr did capture images of the place:

    https://flic.kr/p/ezyRQB
    https://flic.kr/p/ezyUX8
    https://flic.kr/p/ezC7Qf

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    1. We had a restaurant in Clearwater, FL called GattiTown - may be related to Gatti's? It was a pizza buffet with an arcade. The location is now a Cicis but still has many of the games.

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    2. Yep, GattiTown is an expanded format from Mr. Gatti's. In the 1990s, Mr. Gatti's started a couple of new concepts which expanded their gameroom options beyond what normal sit-down Mr. Gatti's locations had. One concept was GattiLand and another that had even more entertainment options was GattiTown. Here is a still-operating GattiTown in the Austin suburb of Round Rock: https://goo.gl/maps/DCp8cK93ucWDbwb47

      More traditional Mr. Gatti's sit-down locations didn't have the bowling lanes, bumper cars, and all of that, but they did have arcade games and they had more than what the red roof Pizza Huts had back in the day. Back in the 1980s, it seemed like all red roof Pizza Huts had at least one arcade machine in it.

      At least in Houston, Mr. Gatti's also expanded the number of take-out & delivery only locations in the 1990s. For some reason, some locations were called just Gatti's, but some kept the Mr. Gatti's name. It seems that the company is using the Mr. Gatti's name now.

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    3. I might as well jump in for the entire experience while I was at it! Interestingly, while a Pizza Hut buffet sounds like something my parents would have frequented a lot back in the day (as we had two of them where I grew up), this experience in Cocoa Beach was my first with one (which made me want to have the full experience even more). I’ve heard the name Mr. Gatti’s before, but I don’t recall seeing one myself. The one mentioned by Ross in the replies below I have seen before as a Cici’s, and I thought it was odd that particular Cici’s had two stories and a bowling alley in it (as I’d never seen a Cici’s like that before). The fact it started out as a concept by Mr. Gatti’s would explain the unusual features (and now I need to add that place to my dining experience list – it’s still operational as a Cici’s per their website). That’s actually a newer Cici’s, having only opened in 2016, although I don’t know how long it lasted as GattiTown. Maybe one of these days I’ll poke around and see where there were other Mr. Gatti’s in Florida, but that one in Clearwater seems interesting since Cici’s kept it mostly the same from the GattiTown days.

      That’s pretty interesting that your last dine-in Pizza Hut experience was in Germany! It certainly would be interesting to compare how the food at American fast-food chains differs in other countries, both in taste and selection. The fact that a lot of other countries ban a lot of the chemicals and preservatives commonly used in food in the US probably helps improve flavor, which would make you think it tastes better elsewhere! I’ve never been outside of the United States, so I can’t really speak much for how these chains differ in other places. Would be interesting to experience though.

      Yes, that Houston Pizza Hut you linked to certainly has more vintage elements than the Cocoa Beach location did (and a lot more wood paneling – that’s for sure!). There could still be some Pizza Hut buffets floating around in Houston, but they’re hard to track down online since Pizza Hut’s website doesn’t list if one is offered anymore. I don’t think it’s original, but I like the trapezoid awning over the door at the Hampstead hut – it matches the windows well!

      We had some Godfather’s Pizza locations here in Florida at one time, but all the ones I remember were limited to takeout counters inside of Hess Express convenience stores (that all seemed to close before Hess sold out to Speedway). For the longest time I thought Godfather’s was limited to takeout only locations, only recently discovering they had full-service restaurants and buffets too. It looks like they still have a decent number of locations in the Upper Midwest from what I can tell, with other locations scattered about.

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    4. Part I:

      I'm hardly an expert on Cici's Pizza, but I agree that a two-story Cici's with a bowling alley would be highly unusual! Those strange elements to that Cici's must be remnants of the GattiTown as Ross says. That would be neat if you could get down to the CiciTown since it sounds like a really interesting recycle job and since Mr. Gatti's itself might have been a rare thing in Florida.

      I mentioned that in addition to GattiTown, Mr. Gatti's also had a smaller attempt at an entertainment-focused format called GattiLand. Here's a GattiLand in San Antonio if you want to see what that is about. This location looks to be stuck in the early-to-mid 1990s judging by the interior decor, but that just adds to the charm I think: https://goo.gl/maps/c7vWb7Umvju1d6wN7

      Back in the 1980s, there was a prominent pizza chain here in Houston which mostly had buffet locations that was often confused for Pizza Hut. It was called Pizza Inn. Pizza Inn is still around, but they're smaller than they used to be. There's an all-day, 7 days a week Pizza Inn buffet not too far from me and it's located in an old Burger King of all things. When I say old, I mean really old, lol. I think I ate at that Burger King ~30 years ago! There's not much left at the Pizza Inn that looks like Burger King relics other than the outside street signs. Link: https://goo.gl/maps/yzmRhdHNRQVvJjuX7

      Pizza Inn doesn't seem to be in Florida now, but they were there before. Here's an Orlando Sentinal article from 1989 talking about the sudden closure of seven Central Florida Pizza Inns in 1989. I don't know if Pizza Inn ever came back to Florida after that, but they don't seem to be there now even though they have locations very close to the Florida border in places like Brunswick, GA and Mobile, AL. Link: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1989-11-06-8911063378-story.html

      After posting my initial post, I learned that Godfather's Pizza has returned to Houston yet again in the summer of 2020 and one of their two locations is not far from that location in the old Pizza Hut that I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, that's just a take-out/delivery location in an old gas station Church's Chicken location it seems. But, yeah, I do remember eating at Godfather's sit-down locations many, many years ago. Unfortunately, when I got that pizza from them in 2009, the pizza didn't quite match up with the good memories I had of them from ~20 years before that.

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    5. Part II:

      When I went to Cocoa Beach in 1988, I also went to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (it reasons that someone from Houston would be interested in seeing space stuff, lol). I can't really say how I came and went from Cocoa Beach, but it's quite possible that I did see this Pizza Hut. Of course, Pizza Huts like that were a dime a dozen back then so I probably didn't pay much attention to it. Who would have guessed 30+ years later I would be reading about it on the computer?!

      I remember talking to Retail Retell about Pizza Hut's return to their older logo. I'm thrilled about it because I like that logo and I also still have magnets on my fridge that are ~30 years old and have the 'old' Pizza Hut logo on them. Those ancient magnets are now modern once again! It just goes to show that one should never throw away those things even if they seem outdated, lol. I wonder if I have any old Burger King stuff which now might be more or less modern once again, lol.

      I don't have too many memories of the German Pizza Hut other than the ordering issues I had that I mentioned earlier. In general, however, American fast food tastes better in Europe than it does here. It's also more expensive, but Europe does have some higher food purity standards as you say and I'm sure that helps. They are also more serious about using 'real' cheeses and such. Perhaps the most interesting American fast food I've ever come across was during my trip to India back in the late 1990s. American fast food was still new there at the time. Since a lot of people don't eat beef there, McDonald's makes their burgers with mutton instead of beef (at least they did back then) and their McNuggets are veggie nuggets. I had Domino's Pizza there. The pizzas are smaller, but the meats have a much stronger, spicy flavor to them than ours. It was very good. I don't like Indian food and I was quite worried about the food safety standards there so I was quite relieved to have American fast food near me, lol.

      As much as I liked Domino's in India, perhaps my favorite pizza in India was from a local (but clean looking) chain called Smokin' Joes. Although it's a local chain, it's modeled after what Indians think of the US and it specifically has a Texas theme to it. I believe this is the location I would go to, but it's possible they might have moved since this was many years ago. Anyway, if you look through the photos, you can get an idea for what their pizzas are like over there and there is also a photo of their menu. It's pretty neat looking at stuff like this: https://g.page/smokin-joes-pizza-ranwar-recl?share

      Perhaps the oddest dining experience I ever had is when I went to a local Italian pizzeria in northern Italy with a group of real Italians. I was the only American there. The pizzas couldn't have been more different from our idea of what pizzas are and they were eating it with a fork and knife! It took me a while to adjust to that!

      That's some good research about the Daytona Olive Garden, thanks for that information. I wonder if Daytona or the track put up new sign ordinances because all the restaurants near the track now have smaller signs which probably can't be seen on TV. Olive Garden did get a lot of free advertising from that old sign though!

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  5. Part II:

    As far as Florida Pizza Huts go, I know we've discussed my camcorder footage of the Orlando International Drive Pizza Hut in 1988. I went to Cocoa Beach on that same trip and so I may have seen this Pizza Hut as well, but sadly there is no footage of it on tape.

    Speaking of Italian food and Florida beaches, as you know, I used to watch a lot of Nascar racing prior to 2004. I have not watched any since, but I do remember that right around turn 4 at Daytona Speedway was a giant Olive Garden sign for a location that must have been near the Volusia Mall. It was visible even when watching races in the era of standard definition TV. I see that there is an Olive Garden near that location now, but historic Google Streetview images show that's a relatively new location so they must have had an older location near there at one time. I probably saw that Olive Garden in person as I've been to Daytona a couple of times, but yeah. I thought I would share that odd memory of the Daytona Olive Garden sign, lol.

    It does look like there is a red roof Pizza Hut buffet on Daytona Beach though. Google says this location is temporarily closed, but there are recent user reviews on it so that might not be correct. Anyway, what's neat is there is an old image from 2008 of this location in the images of this place that shows it with the original logo! Link: https://goo.gl/maps/g1BQLD1oMQZZCSAs8

    Red roof Pizza Hut buffets must be more common in Florida than here in Houston as I found another one close to Daytona in DeLand: https://goo.gl/maps/3qCwwiC2cVrv7N6C7

    It looks like there is a nice older Wendy's near that DeLand Pizza Hut. While it still has the sun room, it looks like it sadly no longer has the infamous green carpet in the dining room. Oh well. Link: https://goo.gl/maps/rtiitKS2MenqBRJt8

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    1. If you left Orlando and drove straight to Cocoa Beach, and went to the beach at the very end of that road (Route 520), you would have seen this Pizza Hut (when it was fairly new too). I’m sure this place would have been a more interesting experience back in its prime in the late 1980’s though!

      The Daytona Beach Olive Garden moved in 2013, per this article: https://www.news-journalonline.com/article/LK/20130926/News/605074395/DN The original Olive Garden you mention was located diagonally across the street, where Houligan’s restaurant is now (and lines up perfectly with the placement on the track you mention). Olive Garden probably knew they’d get a lot of exposure by placing a giant sign at that location, knowing the cameras from the NASCAR races would always catch a glimpse of it!

      That was a neat find with the Daytona Beach Pizza Hut, seeing the old sign lasted as long as it did. The St. Cloud Pizza Hut I mentioned in the post still has an original logo on its roof too. Now that the old logo is new again, they don’t even need to spring for a new sign now! (See here: https://rb.gy/f9x8mk)

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  6. I believe the Pizza Hut on East Colonial Drive by Target still operates a lunch buffet.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know! Hopefully the buffet will reopen there, if it hasn’t already.

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