I grew up in the southeast corner of Kansas where a rugged swath of the Ozarks createsd a countryside of rolling hills and woods of stunning beauty. The area was also rocky farmland and hard scrabble little towns where generations of Italians worked in the strip mines and built family-meal restaurants that still thrive today. There were numerous stories of hard-working parents who refused to give up and went on to build better lives for themselves and their children.
When my grandson went with me to visit my mother two months ago, he also introduced me to another Kansas success story. On our drive home, I asked Gannon where he wanted to eat, and he chose Pizza Hut. The nearest one was in the little town of Burlington, and from the outside it looked like a typical Pizza Hut. But inside it displayed many pictures and details of Pizza Hut’s humble beginnings.
In 1958, two college-aged brothers, Dan and Frank Carney, borrowed $600 from their mother to purchase second-hand equipment and rent a small building on a busy street in Wichita, KS. They worked long hours and didn’t give up (and yes, they also repaid their mother’s loan), and this first Pizza Hut became the foundation of the world’s largest and most successful chain of pizza restaurants. (For my friends across the ocean, I add this detail: in 1973 Pizza Hut began in the UK.)
In the Burlington Pizza Hut, important messages were printed on posters and chalk boards: “From Humble Beginnings Come Great Things”; “Work hard, Stay humble”; and “Do Your Best.” As Gannon and I went to the buffet, we were greeted with smiles from the helpful employees. The Carney brothers did not grow up in this town, but their philosophy thrives.
A teenage girl ahead of us at the buffet wore a tennis T-shirt. On the front was a picture of Arthur Ashe, and this was the message: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This profound reminder is from a superb tennis player and a wonderful man who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery.
I almost protested Gannon’s choice of Pizza Hut for lunch that day, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. You just never know in advance what lessons and reminders you’ll learn while waiting for pizza.