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There’s many Pizza Hut locations in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. But there’s only a few left that have the true ‘90s dining experience – Tiffany lamps, red cups, salad bar and all.

Some generations, notably millennials, may fondly remember the Pizza Huts of the 1990s, with red pebble tumbler cups, video games, catchy playlists, the Book It! Book Club and Tiffany-style lamps.

Founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas, Pizza Hut has over 6,700 locations nationwide and is a nostalgic dinner spot for many. So nostalgic, in fact, that Buzzfeed writes “21 Nostalgic Pizza Hut Things From The ‘90s And ‘00s”; Reddit threads discuss “Classic ‘90s Pizza Hut”; and Substack features “The Retrologist’s Guide to Pizza Hut Classics.”

In recent years, however, Pizza Hut has followed customer trends and increasingly is catering to society’s desired guest experience: takeout and delivery.

“The customer behavior has changed over the years,” said Joe Kerns, Pizza Hut’s director of operations in North Idaho and Washington. “The delivery and carry-out mix have increased, and the dine-in mix has decreased over the past decade. COVID kind of accelerated that trend; a lot of our restaurants aren’t getting a lot of dine-in business.”

Kerns is a member of a small group of people who own every Pizza Hut location in Washington and seven throughout North Idaho. The new Pacific Northwest locations may be takeout only, but Kerns said all of the historically dine-in locations that are still in business today have the same traditional experience as they always did: a large dining room where customers can enjoy their meal, and most notably, the beloved Pizza Hut salad bar.

“Everybody loves the salad bar. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback this year since we’ve got all our enhanced ingredients back into the supply chain,” Kerns said. “When we had to close down the salad bars due to COVID, after we reopened our dining room, a lot of customers would come in and see that the salad bar wasn’t open and turn right back around and head out the door.

“That’s the customer that we’re targeting, is the one that wants to come in, sit down, get a salad bar and order a pizza.”

After re-establishing old ingredients into the supply chain earlier this year, the salad bar’s topping menu consists of mushrooms, onions, green peppers, diced eggs, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, sunflower seeds and croutons, to name a few, along with a number of dressings, and of course, lettuce.

Not only is it a fan-favorite, but the employees and owners understand the salad bar’s value.

“I’m a huge salad bar proponent,” Kerns said. “The value for Pizza Hut is to offer a healthy option; we’ve had a lot of regular customers who have been relying on our salad bar for many years.

“Kids love pizza, and kids are the driving force of where parents tend to eat out. A lot of parents are into the health kick these days, so if we don’t have a healthy option for mom and dad, they might not land at Pizza Hut.”

When the salad bar was at its peak of customer popularity, Pizza Hut decorated its display with kale. In 2012, for example, the company was one of the largest kale purchasers in the United States, according to NPR .

Kerns explained that though it was once a unique, “cool feature,” it is unlikely to make a return due to the consistent decline in the popularity of salad bars.

“That’s really old school,” Kerns said. “Back then, most of the Pizza Huts across the U.S. had salad bars, and as leases are up and buildings need to be renovated, they’ve gone with the customer demographic shift of carry-out and delivery.

“When less stores are selling salad bars, the purchasing power is less, and it makes products harder to come by. When every Pizza Hut in the country was selling kale, I’m sure it was a big hit, and I’m sure we were able to get it really easily.”

Adam Boone, a manager at the Pizza Hut at 323 N. Sullivan Road, said business continues to grow for their rare salad bar, especially with their lunch special.

“It’s a personal pan one-topping pizza, or eight bone-out wings, and a trip to the salad for $9.99,” Boone said. “If you wanted to have salad bar by itself, it’s $7.99 for all-you-can-eat.”

The salad bar station just has inserts now, instead of beds of kale, and it’s been that way a while, said Boone who has worked that location for four years and other locations for 10.

“With us having the salad bar, we’re top 3 busiest store in the area,” Boone said.

The other remaining local dine-in locations that have a salad bar are locate at 11820 W. Sunset Hwy. in Airway Heights; 212 West Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene; and 920 E. Polston Ave. in Post Falls.

And that’s likely to remain the same for years to come. Pizza Hut is not planning to open any new dine-in locations due to a lack of demand. Kerns said this is not due to issues with the dine-in experience, but rather a change in the common people’s desired dinner experience.

“The difference is in the speed of service,” Kerns said. “The new delivery and carry-out units are built for the customer that is on the go and wants their pizza fast and hot and ready right away.

“Our traditional restaurants are for people who like to come in and have that community feel again and take their time with their meal. That community experience is more prevalent in those restaurants; the newer restaurants are catered to the faster-paced environment we live in today.”

Pizza Hut franchisees point to other factors that help their business stand out from other chain pizza restaurants, such as its customer involvement and dedication.

“We have a ton of long-time employees with deep roots to Pizza Hut throughout all of our stores,” Kerns said. “We just celebrated two 25-year anniversaries for two delivery drivers at our Shadle location this year.”

Several employees at the Airway Heights location have been working there for many years and have regulars who come in and love to see the friendly faces of their long-time servers.

“The customer base in Airway Heights throughout the years has always been great to us,” Kerns said. “I love that community that comes in and frequents our salad bar. It’s a military community, being right next to Fairchild Air Force Base, that kind of sets that location apart.

“We do everything we can to connect with the base, such as military specials and stuff like that. ”

Liam Bradford's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.