4 Once-Favorite Pizza Chains in America That Went Out of Business
Now more than ever, the pizza business is a dog-eat-dog world. Especially since the onset of the pandemic, when pizza became more than just a convenient comfort—it became a soothing balm, with fleeting glances at delivery drivers the closest thing to friendship we were able to feel.
But just because everyone was staying home and ordering pizza doesn't mean every pizza restaurant has thrived. According to a recent survey from Statista, the number of pizza restaurants in the U.S. soared to a staggering new high in 2020, with upwards of 100,000 units. For pizza-slinging businesses, this meant a lot more competition.
The endless hunger for pizza is only the latest chapter in America's doughy saga, which has seen the rise and fall of plenty of chains over the years. While some struggling chains are growing so rapidly that they're tripling in size, others have been less fortunate. Whether dining out or ordering in, the dining public in the U.S. is a fickle bunch, with ever-changing palates and preferences.
Just as certain steakhouses have fallen out of favor in recent years, the same unfortunate fate has befallen a few once-beloved pizza chains. Along with struggling chains like Sbarro and California Pizza Kitchen, both of which are clinging for dear life, here are four American pizza titans that have gone out of business over the years.
One of the progenitors of the pizza delivery era, Pizza Haven is now but a bygone relic for pepperoni lovers in the Pacific Northwest. The chain originated in Seattle in 1958, operating as a once-revolutionary dial-a-pizza format that made it one of the first on the market for such a brand. At its height, Pizza Haven had 42 locations in the Pacific Northwest and California, but its days were numbered as it became a casualty of the 1990s' pizza delivery wars.
As mammoth companies like Pizza Hut and Domino's emerged, Pizza Haven couldn't keep up, eventually going the way of Blockbuster Video and filing for bankruptcy in the late '90s, before disappearing entirely.
ShowBiz Pizza Place
A pizza place with games, rides, and creepy animatronics—sound familiar? If you guessed Chuck E. Cheese, you might be surprised to learn that there was actually another oddly similar concept that predated the rodent-themed pizza playpen. The concept was called ShowBiz Pizza Place, a kid-centric eatery that served pizza with a side of shenanigans.
Initially opened in Kansas City in 1980, ShowBiz featured an animatronic stage show called Rock-afire Explosion, starring a hillbilly bear called Billy Bon, a musical gorilla, and a spirited mouse.
Unsurprisingly, there really is only room for one animatronic pizza place, so when Chuck E. Cheese became the de facto brand for ball pits and pizza, it eventually took over ShowBiz and converted all locations by 1992, leaving the brand's origins in the 1980s dust. Of course, the fact that Chuck E. Cheese has gone through bankruptcy and resorted to selling frozen pizza is not exactly the pinnacle of success either, so only time will tell how much longer America will have a pizza place with animatronic critters.
Happy Joe's Pizza
While not totally gone, the future looks iffy for a Midwestern pizza chain that's taken a big hit in recent years. Whereas Happy Joe's once boasted 42 locations across Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, its parent company Dynamic Restaurant Holdings filed for bankruptcy—resulting in the imminent shuttering of numerous company-owned locations.
Unlike Pizza Haven and ShowBiz, however, there's still hope for Happy Joe's. The bankruptcy, brought on by woes of the pandemic and suffocating competition, didn't affect franchised locations, which still account for a bulk of its units. So while Dynamic couldn't endure its $5.3 million debt, the brand lives on to fight another day.
While nowhere near as prolific as Pizza Haven, and but a blip on the radar compared to omnipresent entities like Domino's, Pizza Cucinova was an Ohio-based mini-chain with a loyal following that seems to have vanished overnight. Without any formal announcement or acknowledgment (its website no longer works, and its last Instagram post was in 2019), all five locations were shut down, giving artisan pizza-loving Ohioans no time to grieve.
The lifespan of the company was short. It first opened in 2013, before growing to a handful of outposts—some of which never returned after the initial pandemic-induced closures. The chain was owned by Florida-based Vivaria Group, which bought Pizza Cucinova from Sbarro—a chain notorious for its own struggles—which certainly speaks volumes about its chances in a pizza-saturated market.
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