Commerce Pizza Hut to be torn down in favor of smaller facility

HARLINGEN — Workers yesterday began the process of hauling out equipment before tearing down the 42-year-old Pizza Hut restaurant at 1224 S. Commerce St.

Seven weeks from now, it will be replaced with a smaller and sleeker restaurant offering only carry-out or delivery service, and no inside seating.

“Nothing lasts forever,” said Chris Wicker, general manager of RGV Pizza Hut LLC, which operates 45 restaurants from Laredo to Brownsville. “That store’s been there a long time.”

In the United States, pizza is an annual $40 billion business, and Pizza Hut has by far the biggest slice of the pie at about 15 percent.

But the pizza market segment is also one of the most competitive in the restaurant industry, and Pizza Hut is attempting to reinvent itself to retain both its profit margins and a lead over its main competitors.

In 2014 the chain owned by restaurant goliath Yum Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC) overhauled its menu, adding new sauces, crusts and pizza recipes.

Pizza Hut hopes to answer part of the profitability question with lower-staffed carry-out and delivery-only restaurants that are less expensive to operate.

“It seems with today’s technology, all of our iPhones, our laptops and iPads, one guy does the work of three or four people now,” said Wicker, who grew up in Harlingen. “We’re multitasking at all times and we never seem to slow down.

“That’s good and that’s bad, but you’re not going to change it,” he said.

RGV Pizza Hut has operated in the Valley since 1973 and currently employs about 1,200 people, Wicker said.

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Slicing up the $40 billion U.S. pizza market

Pizza Hut — 14.89 percent

Domino’s — 9.86 percent

Little Caesars — 7.85 percent

Papa John’s — 6.45 percent