Were you really a ’90s kid in Australia if you didn’t go to a birthday party at Pizza Hut, all you can eat, just for you (or your friend) to flush it down the toilet because you (or your friend) swoop in on the no-nonsense red soda its end?
I used to love going to Pizza Hut all you can eat – although they now call it “The Works”. Probably because so many kids took the name literally and ate more than they could ever dream of in their 8-year-old’s stomach. For the purpose of this article, I will continue to call it “all you can eat”.
Pizza Hut all you can eat pizza hut restaurants were to me like a modern child equivalent of roman vomit. We were feeding ourselves as if we were goose ready for goose liver. We were kids eating like the French elite.
I was eating slice on BBQ chicken and Hawaiian pizza. Followed by piles of golden garlic-crusted bread, laden with bottomless jugs of soda, just to prepare my mind, body, and soul for the most wonderful ending: the dessert bar.
My memory of the candy bar is gilded. I think there were two light flavors: chocolate and vanilla. And the toppings were things she dreamed of: tiny marshmallows, sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, crushed peanuts, chocolate chips, huge five-liter pump-out bottles of chocolate and topped with raspberries, and of course, cubes of red and green jelly so thick it could knock them out. With a fork.
I recently heard that the last Pizza Hut All You Can Eat buffet restaurant in South Australia closed, and the rest of the restaurants across the country have been dropping like flies for the past decade.
So, while I was visiting my mum in my hometown of Nepaluna (Hobart) I decided to re-visit this sinister place. Those sacred halls that were the last bastion of the best all-you-can-eat pizza. There were only 11 left in all of Australia, and the Tasmanian site was certainly up and running around the clock.
I called my friend Rob to come with me. I needed someone to share this journey through the memory lane.
Standing outside the restaurant’s distinctive red roof, I was nervous and excited. Nervous, because I was about to walk to a place I hadn’t visited in over twenty years and worried that my expectations wouldn’t make me lighter with nostalgic memories. Excited, because revisiting places closely associated with childhood memories is usually fun. I hoped it would be, at the very least, a chaotic time.
What I didn’t anticipate or hope for was a complete existential crisis about the value of nostalgia, as well as becoming a sort of Jelly Truth akin to those who gossip endlessly about spelling Bernstein Beers It is actually spelled Bernstein.
False memories and the Mandela influence aside, I should have warned about the first red flag: a huge hole in the tall red edifice where the Pizza Hut sign was supposed to be. Perhaps this visit will not hold.
When I entered the building I immediately fell into a lack of smell. I didn’t have COVID so the lack of smell was more of a concern to my excited anticipation than my health. One of my most favorite things in life is enjoying the unexpected scent of a scent I haven’t smelled in years and then instantly taking me back to time and place.
But it smelled of mild pizza, not even in the way of garlic and dough. Just like how I imagine the smells of cartoon pizza: like melted Swiss cheese. Smell not very offensive. Is lack of smell the reason Pizza Huts fail around Australia if not the world? Did they never take advantage of the power of a signature scent like Subway’s?
I ordered a beer along with the twenty-five dollar entrance fee, and my head almost exploded. A beer at Pizza Hut. I was upset, as if I was drinking a beer at McDonald’s. Except I wasn’t at McDonald’s, I was at Pizza Hut. The place where I can eat as much cheese lover pizza as I want and drink a $6.90 beer. I had no idea before about Pizza Hut licensing.
After eating a plate of delicious treats, it’s time to dive straight into why Pizza Hut is all you can eat: the dessert bar. I grabbed a bowl and spoon and filled my vestibule with smooth vanilla ice cream, a huge serving of chocolate mousse, chocolate mousse, sprinkles, hundreds of thousands, chocolate chips, and finally cubes of jelly. I mixed the red jelly in a bowl of the sweet crust and went over to the second color, just expecting the jelly to be green. But it was blue.
I was fine with only having one flavor of the snack and expected no peanuts. I was a little saddened by the lack of little marshmallows – but the jelly is blue, not green? what the hell?
My friend Rob was also confused. he is, surelyI remembered the green jelly cubes.
I looked around the restaurant to see who was there. They were just families having a happy dinner together. No one seems angry about the sudden change in color of the jelly.
I could barely finish the slopes dessert plate, so we left.
The next day I surveyed 30 of my friends about the color they remembered as Pizza Hut’s all-you-can-eat jelly. Three remembered red, 11 remembered green, 14 said green and red, one remembered purple (what kind of Boogie Pizza Hut were they going to where the jelly was purple?) and one remembered green and red frogs, in the puddles.
I called the remaining Pizza Hut restaurants in NSW and asked them what the colors of their jelly cubes were and they all said they were blue and red. But all the reviews on Google for people who were excited about going mentioned remembering green jelly when they were kids.
I even met former employees of two Pizza Hut all you can eat restaurants. They both persistently remember that the jelly is red and green. When did Pizza Hut change the color of jelly? Or is it always red and blue and we have some kind of collective amnesia?
Will, now a man in his 30s, remembers working as a dish at Pizza Hut as a teenager. He said the worst thing (aside from the very low wages of less than $6 an hour) was the smell on your clothes after the shift. He said, “You will literally fill the house until you wash them. It smelled like pure grease.” Also tell me how the softcast worked.
“She comes in big bags of powder and you add it to a bucket, under the tap, mix it up and pour it right into the machine,” he told me. “It turned me off a bit.”
I spoke with another former Pizza Hut employee, Madison, who is also now in his 30s. He clearly remembered that he had to clean up some children’s vomit.
“I cleaned one with my hand once. It was so undigested that it looked like it spilled the whole thing.” He didn’t say why he had to clean with his hands. I asked Madison what he remembered most about working there. One employee died in a car accident, and the managers asked us to wear our uniform to the funeral in solidarity with them. Three of us went. You can not wash off the grease from the dough with the smell. ”
The most annoying thing about my trip to Pizza Hut is that I think I really wanted to go back to my childhood. But while the vinyl-seated booths were the same (complete with graffiti engraved on the wooden window sills) and the never-ending cups of red soda were delicious, I had a Pizza Hut all you can eat hole-in my longing Heart longing.
I suppose the endless march of time will always push us forward, no matter what we desire. Is this why we still text your ex even when we know nothing good will come of him? Because nostalgia has stained our memories, sweet and savory in our minds, just like a Pizza Hut bar?
Indeed, it is more like discovering 20 years later that soft serve is made of tap water, powder bags, and a bucket.
Not surprising, but cold and disappointing in the end.
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