Hungry Howie's Steve Jackson On The Origin Of The Pizza Wars - Exclusive

Watch out. The pizza wars have a new power player. ZDNet hypothesizes that pizza vending machines might change the contours of the battlefield for good. Who doesn't want 10-inch Italian style thin crust pizza ready and offered up to you — contactless — in under five minutes?

But if vending machines might make up the frontline of the pizza wars in the near future, Hungry Howie's CEO Steve Jackson can remember the battles' beginnings. This epic popularity contest — which according to PMQ Magazine's 2021 report is currently dominated by Domino's, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars, with Hungry Howie's in the 11th spot — dates back much longer than when fast food giants started arm-wrestling over who has the best chicken sandwich. In the 1970s, Steve Jackson was on the front lines, literally. "Jim [Hearn] opened our first [Hungry Howie's] store in '73. I opened in '76, and that was kind of like the onset of the beginning of the pizza wars," Jackson remembered in an exclusive interview with Mashed. When Jackson opened, he didn't limit himself to supervising operations in an armchair. "I liked the heat of the battle. The dinner rush heat. You had to be firing on all cylinders," he reminisced. "When the battle came, it was just the streamlining of the order to make it, to get it in the oven, to get it out, [and then ] having it ready for the customers when they pick[ed] it up [or to] get it to their door."

Go back 45 years and, according to Jackson, Domino's wasn't a power player. It was Little Caesars that took the first shot and changed pizza marketing forever.

How Little Caesars took the first shot in the pizza wars, according to Steve Jackson

Think pizza, and you dream of New York or Chicago, right? Surprise! Fast food pizza has another capital: Detroit. According to Jackson, Hungry Howie's opened its first two restaurants a little more than a decade after Domino's and Little Caesars opened theirs, all in or around Detroit and its suburbs. Along with Domino's, Little Caesars, and Hungry Howie's, Michigan — per Seen — is home to Jet's Pizza, currently ranked 15th in nationwide sales according to PMQ Magazine's 2021 report. Pizza Hut, should you be wondering, started off in Wichita, Kansas (via Pizza Hut), but had also opened restaurants in Michigan by 1972, one year before Hungry Howie's (via The Herald Palladium). 

"Domino's was not a big brand in Michigan," Jackson clarified to Mashed. "They grew college campuses across the country. So when it came to concentrations in the state of Michigan, in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, they didn't have a very large concentration of stores. Little Caesars did." And it was Little Caesars that made the first move. "They started the pizza wars with the buy a pizza, get a pizza free," Jackson recounted. "Their brand niche back in those days was pizza, pizza. Because you could buy one, get one. So they kind of forced everybody into that competitive value concept. And it's held with us until today." Not many buy one, get one free offers today, sadly. 

For more Hungry Howie's history, and to check out the chain's competitive value pies, visit its website