Wednesday, October 12, 2016

[Suburbia Lost] Pizza Hut and Local Coffee - Dry Ridge, KY

In the shadow of two local favorites, yet another abandoned Pizza Hut as well as a forgotten local coffee outfit.

- The abandoned Pizza Hut of Dry Ridge, KY with a sign for local favorites Skyline Chili and Larosa's in the background.

The general opinion of Cincinnati chili seems to be: if you're from here, you love it; if you're an outsider, you hate it. There's exceptions in both categories obviously, but overall the Queen City style of chili is insanely popular with the locals. So popular in fact, that you're not likely to see an abandoned Skyline Chili show up in this project simply because I can't imagine a location that doesn't make money hand over fist.

On a recent trip to Virginia, we were coming back from a ten-hour drive and a week of being away. The thought of some Skyline was a nice reminder of home so we hit the first one you possibly can when approaching the metro area from the South: Dry Ridge, KY. 

It's also one of the last locations to stop at if you're heading out of town. The employee who rang us up said you get to hear a lot good stories from the vast amount of people passing through in both directions on nearby I-75. This last outpost of Cincy-style chili is so well known it even has its own souvenir t-shirts for sale. It's tucked back near some hotels off the exit ramps, but prominently seen via the highway. Another local staple,  LaRosa’s Pizza*, also operates nearby as some sort of Queen City culinary border embassy. 

Like any other highway exit, Dry Ridge has its fair share of fast food chains, but Skyline is the only real choice if you're hungry. I'm not sure it's fair to say that this Pizza Hut couldn't hack it against the nearby local chili empire location or local pizza parlor, more than likely it was just another victim of the company’s evolving business model. 

Pizza Hut:

As was touched upon in yesterday’s update, the iconic pizza chain has strayed away from their well known, standalone stores with the iconic red roof (even this one had the roof painted over at some point). Pizza Hut was once so popular that a jealous McDonald’s corporation had tried to develop its own line of pizza to win back the dinner crowd. These days, most Pizza Hut stores being developed are carry-out only, paired with a Taco Bell drive-through, or only offer a small dine-in seating area. You can typically find them in the kind of suburban strip malls that line any major exurb road. 

Pizza Hut’s website actually has a history about their patented roof design and color. They describe it as being symbolic of “family dinners, post-game parties, and late nights at the office all around the world (what?).” The iconic restaurant branding was even featured in a Smithsonian exhibit on American culture and still exists as part of Pizza Hut’s modern logo. As the company moves to a new model of store, the former locations are still instantly recognizable. There’s even a great blog dedicated to documenting businesses made out of old Pizza Hut’s

- Interior style once commonly found in all standalone Pizza Hut's.

- Historical photo of a Pizza Hut with the iconic red roof design. Old school Waffle House in the background. Image courtesy of Pizza Hut's propaganda blog.

In the Suburbia Lost series, decaying chain restaurants that were built initially for a sole purpose often get featured. The landscape is dotted with them everywhere you go. It’s one of the main things that sets this project apart from this site’s other urban exploration and history articles that sometimes feature architecturally or culturally significant structures. Frankly, there’s never really anyone lamenting the loss of a Pizza Hut or the closure of a Taco Bell. These building’s often have no significant history or significance at all really. It’s hard to have any love for a large corporate chain in the same way a consumer might appreciate or support a local establishment, something they can put a face to, something they can see as their neighbor or part of the community.

Which is why the abandoned “non-chain” places are intriguing. You can somewhat sympathize with these places, humanize them. No one really believes that they’re personally “part of the Pizza Hut family” or joining “a great team” at White Castle, but you can relate more closely with a local place and often times you may even root for it in a way that McDonald’s marketing executives may never understand. Nevertheless, local businesses face their own challenges in the suburban landscape and just because it’s local doesn’t always make it good per se. Either way, the abandoned local joints in this series aren’t as easy to just shrug off or take cheap shots at.

Java Jo'z:

By all accounts Java Jo’z seemed to be well liked, small coffee place in Dry Ridge, just up the road from the aforementioned Pizza Hut. Reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Google rate it highly, almost all of them praising the friendly staff. Primarily a drive-through operation, there was some room inside for a small lobby and a few stools. 

While not a building constructed with a specific corporate brand in mind, reusing the structure almost dictates that it be a drive through coffee shop. It has service windows on both sides which is interesting. If anyone ever wanted to make a go again at offering an alternative to the caffeine found at nearby gas stations and fast food eateries, there’s a decent little building just off the interstate, across from the abandoned Pizza Hut and up the road from the Skyline Chili outpost. 

*Personally, I'd choose Pizza Hut over Larosa's. 

Suburbia Lost is an ongoing documentation of decay in the sphere of a perceived paradise. After years of photographing abandoned, forgotten, and often historical locations in the city, this project aims to take a look at how structures fare in the sphere of suburbia. You can view other entires in the project, here

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