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The Story of the Hungry Howie's Pizza Franchise

Hungry Howies

Are you familiar with pizza chain Hungry Howie's Pizza and Subs? More often than not, it's simply referred to as Hungry Howie's Pizza. As it turns out, it's the 11th largest pizza chain in the entire United States, with more than 550 locations scattered throughout the country. That said, it's surprising how many people aren't familiar with the chain. Many of them have never even eaten there. In fact, a lot of them have never heard of the chain. For anyone who's interested in knowing more about them, the easiest way to do that is to dive into their history.

The History of the Franchise

What can be said about this company that has its headquarters in Madison Heights, Michigan? For starters, the location of its headquarters isn't something that was just arbitrarily chosen by looking at a map. Their very first restaurant was opened in that area. More specifically, it was opened in Taylor, Michigan all the way back in 1973. As previously mentioned, they have locations scattered throughout the United States. Some have been open for almost 50 years while others have seen their glory days come and go. Like any other franchise, the company operates in such a way that people can purchase a restaurant and turn it into a franchise location, even though it isn't managed directly by the people who were responsible for the operation of the first restaurant. Unfortunately, one of the two founders involved with that first restaurant, James R. Hearn, passed away a few years ago. The other founder responsible for the initial operation of the restaurant is Stephen E. Jackson. He still serves as the company’s CEO. These days, there are a number of restaurants that operate under the franchise name, yet all of them are individually managed by either the people that started the franchise in that particular location or the person that they have designated to manage the restaurant on their behalf. You might think of it in much the same way as you would think of a Pizza Hut or a Taco Bell. There are locations scattered all over the place. Each one is operated independently of the other, under the umbrella of the franchise name. However, each restaurant is not operated by the individuals responsible for the development of the franchise itself.

The Importance of the First Location

As it turns out, that first location would serve to be one that was more or less history-making, especially for the people who were directly involved. If it weren't for its success, the franchise never would have existed in the first place. The interesting thing is that Hearn was already involved in the pizza business at the time that he got the idea for Hungry Howie’s. Jackson, the current CEO of the company, was working as a pizza delivery person for Hearn. The restaurant quickly became very popular with high school students from two different schools located nearby. It wasn't long before they became responsible for much of the restaurant's overall business. Eventually, Hearn realized that he needed a partner in order to continue operations without falling behind on practically everything and he asked Jackson if he would be his partner. Jackson agreed and the rest is history, as they say. Eventually, they decided to create a franchise out of the restaurant and they awarded their very first franchise location 10 years later, in 1983. After that, they remained very busy. As a matter of fact, they added another 65 franchise locations in just their first three years of operation. As far back as 1990, they had 160 operations that were located throughout the country. By 2005, that number had swelled to more than 500 locations. Today, there are more than 550 locations that operate in 22 states. As you can see, the number of franchises has fallen off sharply, but the company is still alive and well. As a matter of fact, they had a revenue of more than $280 million in 2009. Although some of their franchise locations have closed recently, they're still doing a lucrative business, especially in some of their more successful locations which have traditionally performed better than others.

Their Crust Makes Them Unique

Every restaurant needs something that makes it unique. That's especially true when it comes to things like pizza restaurants wherever there is so much competition to begin with. If they don't have that factor that makes them stand out from the crowd, then they become just another pizza restaurant among an entire line of other restaurants that do almost exactly the same thing. It makes it very difficult to run a successful operation. As such, Hungry Howie's came up with the idea of creating a gimmick that would make them unique a long time ago. For them, it was all about the crust. They decided to make flavored crust their specialty and to this day, they've managed to do it better than anyone else. As a matter of fact, most other restaurants won't even attempt to do what they have done thus far. The funny thing is, It wasn't Hearn or Jackson that actually came up with the idea of the flavored crust themselves. It was one of their franchise managers. That particular restaurant had been putting garlic butter and sesame seeds on their crust and customers fell in love with it. At one point, Hearn and Jackson went to inspect the location and while they were talking with the manager, this subject was brought up. They thought it was a good idea so they decided to give it a go themselves. They ended up experimenting with roughly eight different types of flavored crust, with the garlic butter and sesame seed option being one of them. In 1985, they started making these crusts available for sale on their pizzas. Eventually, they became known as the expert in all things involving flavored crust. While a few other pizza restaurants have tried something similar, no one can hold a candle to this particular franchise to this day. As such, they are still routinely known as the home of the flavored crust. It's something that has become inextricably linked with the restaurant itself. In all likelihood, it always will be.

Philanthropic Efforts

Another thing that makes this particular restaurant stand out is that they have been known to do a lot of work for charity operations, mainly with regard to breast cancer awareness. They do a campaign every year during the month of October where they change their pizza boxes from the ones that are used throughout the rest of the year to special pink boxes. They make a donation for every one of those pizzas sold to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. So far, they have contributed more than $3 million to the foundation. In 2020, they kicked things up a notch and continued their own efforts while allowing customers to make a donation of their own to the organization whenever they made an online order. This meant that even more money was going to the foundation, something that this particular restaurant chain is obviously passionate about. Aside from these efforts, they've also donated a considerable amount to COVID relief funds, something that they made it a point to do throughout the height of the pandemic when their business was good and others were struggling (mainly because the very nature of their business allows them to thrive when others might be struggling during a pandemic).

A Thriving Business

Some people have a tendency to think that this particular franchise isn't as popular as it was years ago. That simply isn't the case. As a matter of fact, they are currently thriving and some would argue that they are doing just as well now as they ever were in the past. According to the company, they're still very much a thriving organization that is actively looking for employees to staff current restaurants while simultaneously looking for individuals who are interested in opening their own franchises. Obviously, they have a bigger presence in certain parts of the country than they do in others. That said, you could assume the same thing for a lot of companies. The truth is, there aren't that many companies that have a presence in roughly half of the states throughout the country. The very idea that they have more than 550 locations is impressive in and of itself. That's largely because most franchises don't get anywhere near this large. Granted, places like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Dominoes are able to compete with them as far as franchise locations go. That said, they're still considered to be one of the top franchises in the entire country and one that remains very active in everything they do.

Quality Ingredients Make the Difference

The company prides itself on using ingredients that are of the highest quality. It's something that they have always focused on and according to them, it is what has allowed them to become as popular as they have over the course of the last several decades. Between that and the fact that they currently offer eight different flavored crusts, it only stands to reason that most people would be anxious to give them a try. Among those crusts are flavors like asiago cheese, butter, butter and cheese, garlic and herb, sesame seed, Cajun and a few others. In addition, they allow their customers to combine these crusts. That's right, it's possible to get a pizza that's half and half with a Cajun crust and an asiago cheese crust. If you really want to get adventurous, you can even combine the two throughout the entire pizza and see what that flavor combination tastes like. At the end of the day, it's all about options. This particular pizza franchise offers a lot of options that simply aren't available at other locations and that makes all the difference in the world. Those who have tried them like the product and keep coming back for more. Those who haven't get intrigued and want to see what they're all about. You might say it's just good business.

Options Galore

Another thing that makes them so popular is that they stay in touch with their client base. They're quite active on Facebook and while that may seem a bit outdated, they actually do very well at connecting with their client base through that particular platform. As a matter of fact, they tend to make specific posts about upcoming events, holidays and weekend activities because these are the events that typically coincide with people wanting to order pizza. In addition, they have a lot of options that make them the go-to restaurant for anyone that wants pizza. In addition to their flavored crust, they also have a number of different types of crust such as hand-tossed, thin crust and even deep dish pizza. If you've been to a lot of pizza restaurants lately, you know that it's not always easy to find one that offers both thin crust and deep dish. As a matter of fact, deep dish has become something of a specialty that a lot of your typical pizza restaurants simply don't deal with any longer. If you're a real fan of a good, well made deep dish pizza, you probably know how difficult it has become to find one in recent years. Fortunately, Hungry Howie's has that area covered as well. They make one of the most delicious and popular deep dish pizzas on the market, so if that's what you're in the mood for, you don't have to go somewhere else in order to get it.

When it's all said and done, it's about quality and providing good customer service. One of the ways that this franchise has survived for so many years is by doing exactly that. The parent organization carefully monitors their franchises in order to make sure that they're being operated properly. This prevents the chain from getting a bad name from one or two poorly-managed restaurants. Their standard of quality is exceptionally high, but for franchise owners who are willing to stick to those standards, the dividends can be numerous. Perhaps the most important thing is that if you genuinely love pizza, you're probably going to be blown away by the food that you can get at Hungry Howie’s. They have a rich history and with any luck, their future will be just as rich.

Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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