Pizza chains that are disappearing around the country

To state the obvious, people love pizza. Like, they really love it. Which explains why a 2019 report from PMQ Pizza Magazine shows that around the globe, pizza sales are booming on every continent except Antarctica. (Unfortunately, it seems Antarctica is still without a pizzeria.) The majority of us — 83 percent — scarf down a few slices of pizza at least once a month, and both small pizzerias and established chains are popping up like crazy. 

With all this consumer love for pizza though, the competition is fiercer than ever and not every pizzeria is going to be able to keep up with demand. Domino's is leading the charge as the largest pizza chain on the planet — thanks in part to its embrace of technology. It's pretty easy to sell a pizza when the customer can literally order it through their TV, smart watch, in-home assistant, or Facebook account. 

Because of Domino's domination, every other pizza chain is fighting for the other slice of the pie, and many are closing stores left and right. These pizzerias might be in your town today, but there's no guarantee they'll still be there tomorrow. 

Pizza Hut

In terms of American pizza chains, there's not many that have had bigger success than Pizza Hut. What started as a small pizza shop named "Pizza Hut" (because the sign could only fit eight letters) in 1958, has grown to not just an American brand, but a global one. 

Not all is well with Pizza Hut, though, and the brand known for their distinctively shaped buildings is in trouble. In August 2019, Nation's Restaurant News reported that Pizza Hut was planning to shut down nearly 500 locations. Even with over 7,000 locations in the United States, shuttering 500 stores is no small pepperoni. 

As for the reason that your local Pizza Hut might soon be locking its doors, well, it really has to do with how people are getting their pizza. With the emergence of online ordering and delivery services like Uber Eats, not as many people are choosing to eat their pizza inside Pizza Hut's stores. "We have a lot of stores that were built in the right spot when they opened 30 or 40 years ago," chief operating officer David W. Gibbs, said (via Restaurant Business). "But they are not in the right spot today for a modern delivery asset."

In regards to your local Pizza Hut closing, the company plans to convert some of those old dine-in locations to delivery/takeout units. So you'll probably still be able to order a pizza from Pizza Hut — you'll just have to eat it someplace else.

Cicis

It's rough for all-you-can-eat buffets these days and Cicis is struggling just like so many other buffets across the US. 

The pizza chain has been around since the mid-1980s and offers customers unlimited access to their buffet for the low price of $5.99 (depending on location). While that affordability certainly helps out families on a budget, it hasn't necessarily been able to keep the chain from losing stores. 

In 2018, New York saw all of its Cicis locations close (via Times Union). The chain's corporate office didn't say why it shuttered stores in the empire state, but it's suspected that the increase in the minimum wage was too much for Cicis to handle. "The result is that fast food restaurants in New York State are having to choose between shutting down, laying off workers, or raising our prices," read a notice at one Albany location. 

Other stores outside of New York have also recently closed. Grand Blanc, Michigan lost its Cicis in November 2018, and Springfield, Missouri lost its store after an embezzlement investigation.

One possible reason for Cicis Pizza's struggles may simply be that customers want more than a product that's cheap. According to Restaurant Business, quick-service pizza chains like Cicis ranked in the bottom 10 when it came to guest satisfaction and Cicis Pizza has seen its consumer satisfaction decrease by 6.7 points. 

Apparently when the product is dirt cheap, there's not a lot of profit to improve on other things. Imagine that.

Mr. Gatti's Pizza

While we're on the subject about the hard times of buffet pizza chains, let's talk about one that's got a big mess on its hands. If you grew up in Texas or in the Southern U.S., there's a good chance you attended more than one birthday party at Mr. Gatti's Pizza. The chain has been a Texas pizza staple since the 1960s and has seen better days. 

In September of 2018, 13 of Mr. Gatti's stores in its home city of Austin, Texas were sold to another franchise group (via Statesman). That might not have been earth-shaking news, but just a few months later in January 2019, the owner of the pizza chain, Sovrano LLC, filed for bankruptcy. According to the court filing, the company "failed to maximize revenues due in part to underperforming stores at several locations." As for the folks of the franchise group who bought those 13 Austin-area Mr. Gatti's locations — they later sued and argued they were swindled into buying a struggling business.

With news like that, it's really no surprise why locations in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Booneville, Indiana shut their doors around the same time. "There's no other place to play games in Boonville like Gatti's… and I'm gonna miss it," Brylee Butts said of the closing.

Your local Mr. Gatti's might be safe today, but with the turmoil the company is going through, it could be gone like Booneville, Indiana's any day now.

Chuck E. Cheese's

If you're a parent who is struck with dread every time your child gets an invitation to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, we have some good news. You may not have to go anymore. That's right, the pizza chain designed for kids isn't quite as popular as it once was. 

The company has struggled over the last several years, and found itself in competition with the advancements of digital gaming and the overall decline of chain restaurants (via The Motley Fool). Even trampoline parks are giving ol' Chuck E. Cheese's a run for its money. As for the restaurants themselves, well, they've shut their doors because of everything from rodent infestations — which is kinda ironic considering they have a rat mascot — to brawls. Yes, those violent altercations between customers that occasionally make the media rounds can result in store closures.

While those may have been incidents affecting only a few particular stores, a viral internet rumor spread by a popular YouTube personality alleged that the chain recycled its pizza (via Today Show). Chuck E. Cheese's said the idea that they recycled their pizza was "unequivocally false," but nonetheless, that sort of publicity is never good for a brand's image. 

Little Caesars

When a deal is a little too good, it can come back to haunt a brand. Just ask Red Robin or Subway. Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready pizza for five bucks is a great deal for customers. For franchise owners, eh, maybe not so much. 

Those $5 pizzas were not a hit with businessman Alan Knox, who closed all of his 21 Kansas City locations in 2018, because he didn't want to play along with the Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready deal (via The Kansas City Star). Knox argued that he couldn't make a profit at that price point. Kansas City did later see two Little Caesars open in 2019 — they just weren't owned by Alan Knox. 

It's not just the Kansas City area that has seen its Little Caesars locations vanish recently. Locations in Clemson, South Carolina, Victoria, Texas, and Spokane, Washington have also closed their doors in the last year. While no reason for the Clemson or Victoria closures was given, the Spokane Little Caesars was a victim of being located inside a Kmart.

Your local Little Caesars may be safe for now, but if the company isn't careful, the lucrative $5 Hot-N-Ready deal could seal its fate. "The $5 price point … has become an unprofitable business model for many and is fast becoming unprofitable for many more," Todd Messer, a spokesperson for the Independent Organization of Little Caesar Franchisees said.

Papa John's

Papa's in trouble, people. In November 2018, the chain announced that they would be closing 51 locations (via Restaurant Business). Sales had dipped almost 10 percent in the United States and three percent internationally. As for the reason behind Papa John's troubles, well, it's been pretty well-documented in the mainstream media that the chain's founder, John Schnatter, got himself and the brand in trouble for using a racial slur.  

Papa John's worked to improve its image by replacing its CEO and launching a "voices of Papa John's" campaign, but that only helped so much. Papa John's current CEO, Steve Ritchie, hasn't been shy about blaming Papa John's struggles on " the negative impact of media coverage" and the company lost $13 million in 2018 from the fallout. 

A year later and Papa John's is still struggling to rebuild its brand back to what it once was. The company hasn't closed as many stores in 2019 as it did in 2018, but they're still closing. According to Restaurant Business, franchise operators are struggling to compete with other pizzerias in a crowded marketplace, and are therefore more likely to close rather than open up another unit. 

California Pizza Kitchen

For mall shoppers looking for a meal that's a little more upscale than something like Sbarro, California Pizza Kitchen has been the answer since its inception in 1985. Like many other casual-dining chain restaurants, the chain is feeling the crunch of dropping sales as consumers look for other ways to spend their dining-out dollars. California Pizza Kitchen has seen its sales drop by 1.6 percent and it seems to be losing stores in its restaurant fleet.

In the summer of 2019, the chain closed California Pizza Kitchen locations in popular dining areas near Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Arlington Heights, Illinois, and the only two locations it had in Washington state. The company remained mum on the reasons behind all three of the closures, but it doesn't take a detective to uncover why the chain is closing up shop in some areas. The restaurants typically operate in areas with very high rents and in the case of its Manhattan closure, sales just weren't covering the cost of business (via Eater). 

In August 2019, the chain announced that it would be trying out take-and-bake as a way to boost its sales. It's probably still too early to tell if this strategy will be enough to keep the doors open at your local California Pizza Kitchen, so it might be a good idea to enjoy that BBQ chicken pizza while you still can.

Papa Murphy's

Just a note to any future pizzapreneurs reading — maybe avoid having "papa" in your name. We already touched upon Papa John's misfortune and now the other big papa pizza chain is having some serious bad luck too. 

Papa Murphy's is unlike other big pizzeria's because patrons only have the option of take-and-bake. While this approach might be good for saving cost on delivery, labor, and store size, it wasn't enough to keep them from closing 97 restaurants in 2018 (via QSR Magazine).

It's hard to scale down much more than take-and-bake, and the chain has seen its sales decline recently. Whereas delivery is often big business for other pizza chains, it's a pretty small fraction of Papa Murphy's business model. (Who wants a pizza delivered that isn't hot and ready to go?) 

It's never a good thing as Restaurant Business points out, when a company has 13 straight quarters of sales declines. Even with the company having an almost 95 percent franchised empire, it's carrying a heavy load of debt. This heavy debt has put pressure on poor Papa Murphy's to grow, but has left them ill-equipped to handle competition from other pizza chains — which results in units closing.

In an age of online ordering, Papa Murphy's only jumped on keeping up with the competition through an online ordering app in the fall of 2018. That's a little late to the party and in a time when pizza-lovers want convenience, Papa Murphy's isn't delivering fast enough.

Blaze Pizza

Kramer on Seinfeld was onto something when he had the idea for a make-your-own-pizza restaurant, because that's exactly what Blaze Pizza delivers to customers. Here's the thing, though, that concept isn't going off without a hitch. 

As the company's founder told Restaurant Business, since Blaze Pizza's inception in 2011, it's climbed to nearly 400 locations and even attracted the attention of NBA superstar LeBron James. Blaze Pizza has seen some disappointing setbacks in that time too.

Two Blaze Pizza locations endorsed by James in Fort Lauderdale, Florida were shut down in 2018 because live flies and dead roaches (which is worse?) were found in the food preparation area. As gross as that may be, South Florida isn't the only part of the country that has recently seen its Blaze Pizza locations close up shop. 

According to The Gazette, the chain closed both of its Colorado locations after just a year in business. "It was a bummer to see them go… they just weren't doing as well in the market," Max Gansline of the business development firm The Staenberg Group of St. Louis, said." While the company didn't give any specific reason for why it packed up and left Colorado, other pizza chains such as Pie Five Pizza have also struggled in the competitive Colorado restaurant market.  

This isn't to say that Blaze Pizza is doomed. Company founder Rick Wetzel reportedly believes his company will be to Dominos what Netflix was to Blockbuster. Time will tell…

Marco's Pizza

Pizza fans west of the Mississippi may not be as familiar with the Marco's Pizza brand as those in the Eastern part of the United States, but the pizzeria has been around for 40 years. As QSR Magazine notes, it's only in the last 15 years or so that the chain has really ballooned and gone from 126 stores to over 900. 

Marco's Pizza is setting its sights on surpassing Papa John's as the fourth largest pizza chain in the United States. With those lofty goals of pizza supremacy, though, are quite a few examples of the chain biting the dust with its rapid expansion. 

In August 2018, the pizzeria closed up all of its locations in New York state as well two locations in Illinois. No reason for any of the closures was given at the time, but opening up shop only to leave town in a hurry without any sort of indication why seems to be protocol for this pizzeria. In April 2019, it was the same story in Salem, Ohio when a store closed its doors unexpectedly. According to the Morning Journal, calls were made to the company's corporate offices in Toledo, but questions as to why the pizzeria closed went unanswered.

Maybe a Marco's Pizza will open up in your town, just don't expect any sort of Dear John letter when they decide to leave.

Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom

For fans of deep dish pizza and craft beer, Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom has been delivering on those carb-heavy craves since 1976. It may be one of the smaller pizza chains in the country with just over 100 locations, but it seems to be struggling for a balance between opening new units with the closing of older locations. 

Unlike some of the other pizza chains on our list, Old Chicago isn't just closing locations that went bust after a year in business. Most of their recent closures have been restaurants with decades of business. 

In August of 2018, Fort Collins, Colorado saw its Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom close after an impressive 36 years of business. The closing marked the third shutdown of other Colorado locations that had also gone belly up after decades in the state. Deep dish fans in Mesa, Arizona also lost their location in 2018 after 16 years of success. 

While the pizzeria did open a new location in Midland, Michigan in February of 2019, any headway was essentially lost when it shut down its Portage location six months later after eight years of business. "Please see us again at any of the other Old Chicago Michigan locations," read a note on the restaurant's doors.

Truth be told, 2019 hasn't been much better. Locations in Cedar Falls and Des Moines, Iowa also shut down and both pizzerias had been in business for a decade or longer.

Pie Five Pizza

Perhaps you've heard of Pizza Inn. They've been around for over 60 years, and according to Fast Casual, are continuing to do well today. What you may not know is that its much newer sister company, Pie Five Pizza is going through some rough times. 

In recent years, Pie Five Pizza has gone from being somewhat of a pioneer in the quick service pizza market to a company that is witnessing its sales decline and stores close up. From 2015 to 2018, Pie Five Pizza saw its sales drop a staggering 34 percent and the number of its stores shrink (via Restaurant Business).

Things haven't improved much for the company as of late, either. By February of 2019, Pie Five was down from around 100 locations to just 65. The company has tried to shift gears from being primarily a dine-in business to one that's focused on takeout, delivery, and drive-thru, but how well that's working is debatable. 

Sales at the chain hadn't improved by May of 2019 and store closures in Texas, Virginia, and Missouri all reflected that.