Frank Carney, who with his brother started the Pizza Hut empire in Wichita, died Wednesday from pneumonia. He was 82.
Carney had recently recovered from COVID-19, but had Alzheimer's disease for more than a decade, the Wichita Eagle reported. He died at 4:30 a.m. at an assisted living facility in Wichita, his wife and brother told the Eagle.
Frank Carney was a 19-year-old student at Wichita State University when he and his 26-year-old brother, Dan, borrowed $600 from their mother to start a pizza business in 1958 near their family's Carney's Market.
"When you are starting a business that's going to pay your way through college, you don't even think about what the economy is doing," Carney once told a 1992 entrepreneurship conference at Wichita State.
"We didn't care about who was in the White House or what the unemployment rate was," he said. "The entrepreneur, all he thinks about is: Is there a market for the product? Can I sell it?"
Joining Papa John's
PepsiCo bought Pizza Hut for $300 million in 1977. Over the years, he got involved in various business ventures, including other food companies, real estate, oil and gas, automotive, rental, and recreational businesses.
Only five of about 20 of the companies made him money, which his brother contends is actually not a bad average.
"He probably lost most of what he had made in Pizza Hut," Dan Carney said. "He was not depressed. He was just aggressive to build something different."
When PepsiCo decided to move the Pizza Hut headquarters from Wichita to Dallas — a decision Frank Carney thought was a mistake — it solidified his decision to become a Papa John's Pizza franchisee in the 1990s and compete against his former business associates in the Wichita market.
Frank Carney had one of the largest Papa John's franchises and kept working until Alzheimer's struck.
"The impact of Frank Carney's entrepreneurship — and his decision to open the first Pizza Hut with his brother, Dan, in 1958 — can be felt by anyone with an appreciation for the brand's iconic red roofs and delicious pizzas," a Pizza Hut spokesperson said. "His legacy will live on in big cities and small towns across the country and around the world, in restaurants that for decades have brought people together and serve as a testament to his vision for the brand and his success as a business leader."
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