Pizza Hut returns to Clanton with new building, familiar faces

Published 1:22 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

A once local staple made its long-awaited return to Clanton on June 25 as Pizza Hut officially opened its doors to its newest franchise in the city. Located directly across from Chilton County High School where the most recent Pizza Hut was located, the third installment of the restaurant brings a more modernized building and a newly revamped menu that features items that were not available at the restaurant when it was last in Clanton.

Pizza Hut’s presence in Clanton began in the 1970s when it opened its original location at what is now the El Agave restaurant in the 500 block of Seventh Street South. The business moved to its current location further up Seventh Street to the 1200 block a few decades later. Pizza Hut thrived in Clanton offering take-out and dine-in options, which included a buffet. Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took a hard toll on the business, and the franchise made the tough decision to close the Clanton location in September 2020 amidst mass closings across many states.

The building at 1211 Seventh St. S, Clanton sat vacant for a few years before it was demolished in 2023. JJB Brands, a franchise with a chain of Pizza Huts that began in 2017 with the acquisition of 35 locations in the southeastern United States, broke into Alabama in 2020. The business acquired and added Checker’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurants to their growing list of locations. JJB Brands contacted the City of Clanton a little over a year ago to get the ball rolling with bringing Pizza Hut back.

“We started looking for various locations around that fits the needs of the communities, and they worked along with us,” Mike Mihalik with JJB Brands said. “We have been working on this Clanton location for about a year now, and we are excited to be back in town where there used to be to a couple other Pizza Huts. We are here now, and we are ready to get things going.”

Having the opportunity to bring back a beloved restaurant in Clanton was special for Mihalik, and it is a part of what JJB Brands is about — looking for locations where there once was a presence, and where there is a need for one again.

Clanton Mayor Jeff Mims commented on the community feel that Pizza Hut always offered with its previous franchises in the city. He believes the new franchise will have that same type of impact on the community, especially being directly across from CCHS again in the heart of Clanton.

“This is so great and wonderful, and I am so thankful Pizza Hut is back in town,” Mims said. “I know there are other (pizza places) here, but everyone loved our Pizza Hut, and I hated it when they left. I am so glad to have them back in town, and I will be eating here tonight.”

While the building and menu has changed, the faces inside will remain the same as local resident Tikka Felder will serve as the general manager of the new Pizza Hut. Felder’s long history of working for Pizza Hut stretches 25 years, and the restaurant was her first job after moving to the area in the 1990s. Felder said closing the last Clanton location in 2020 took a toll on her and the employees, and she fielded questions for years after about when, or if, Pizza Hut would be back.

Now, Pizza Hut is back, and so is Felder.

“I am very excited because this was my very first job, I learned a lot, met a lot of new people and I have had the opportunity to work in a lot of different areas and stores,” Felder said. “To have it back at home is really nice. Everybody was wanting it back, and that was the biggest thing.”

One of the differences in the new franchise from the previous few is the more open concept to the building. Without a buffet inside, the dining room is larger and a larger menu and counter are now in to help serve customers quickly and efficiently.

“We just need to get our foot back in the door with the community, and show them how Pizza Hut has changed,” Mihalik said. “We hope this is a much better place for the community to come in, sit down and enjoy some pizza. We are so glad to have the community out today, and a lot of folks from the (City of Clanton) came out to see us. We are glad to partner with them, and we are looking forward to a lot of success in the future.”

The new Clanton location makes two Pizza Huts in Chilton County, joining the Jemison establishment located at 24557 U.S Highway 31, Jemison.