Up Front: FOOD FORAYS
PIZZA HUT: OUT TO TEMPT THE ITALIANS
Coals to Newcastle, pizza to Parma. That's the gamble Pizza Hut is taking, aiming to sell its pies to the Italians, who invented the stuff. Wichita-based Pizza Hut plans to open by yearend its first Italian franchise, on Piazza Picelli in Parma's historical center, and later to expand throughout Italy. Already, Pizza Hut is in 88 other countries.
The company admits Parma will be a litmus test. The home of prosciutto and Parmesan cheese, this city is known for its discriminating tastes, both gastronomical and otherwise. Parma is where internationally renowned opera stars get booed right off the stage. Pizza Hut spokesman Robert Doughty contends that the chain will overcome resistance by adopting the decor of an Italian cafe and tailoring the menu to Italian tastes. "In Japan, for example, we offer pizza with squid."
Trouble is, company menu planners have yet to come up with a strategy to rival the Italian pie. Faith Heller Willinger, a food-service expert in Florence, says Pizza Hut's famous thick, doughy crust laden with cheese and pepperoni won't appeal to Italians, who prefer a thin, crispy crust and spare toppings.
Beyond that, the question turns on whether Italians will see Pizza Hut as homogenized fast food, which they dislike. But Romeo Medici, director of statistics research at Parma's Chamber of Commerce, says convenience and cheap prices work in Pizza Hut's favor. Italy, too, he says, is "becoming a culture of mass consumption."Christina Bennett