March 1, 2011: A series of opaque white sliding partitions separates the focus group area from a mammoth test kitchen at the new Pizza Hut headquarters.
If taste testers sense too much oregano or not enough basil, chefs, watching on video monitors, can incorporate changes in time for another round of sampling by the same group.
A process that earlier would have taken weeks is reduced to minutes.
As pizza players throughout the country scramble to put new twists on a dish that dates back centuries, the country’s largest pizza chain is looking to its new digs — which were officially dedicated Tuesday — to help boost inspiration and innovation.
“This is an exceedingly competitive [restaurant] category. And it morphs very, very quickly,” said Scott Bergren, chief executive of Pizza Hut U.S. and newly appointed head of innovation for all restaurants of parent company Yum Brands Inc. “It gives us a competitive advantage to be first with the news instead of copying the news.”
The new headquarters for Pizza Hut and its sister division, Yum Restaurants International, replaces the longtime headquarters due south along the Dallas North Tollway in Addison.
With 177,000 square feet of space on 20 acres in the sprawling Legacy Business Park, the Corporate Drive campus includes day care, a fitness center, a dry-cleaning service and a lake.
The three-story headquarters building, called the Center of Restaurant Excellence, and its equipment were expected to cost about $20 million. That’s not counting the cost of the land, which Pizza Hut bought from Trammell Crow Co. Pizza Hut declined to reveal the cost of the land and the final construction costs.
The move, which took place over four days in mid-January, hinged on an incentive package from Plano — its largest ever — that gives Pizza Hut grants and tax breaks of more than $2 million.
The offices are now home to nearly 400 Pizza Hut workers, 140 staffers with Yum International, 100 employees from sister brand Taco Bell and Yum corporate and about 50 workers with former corporate parent PepsiCo Inc., which remains Yum’s official soft drink supplier.
Life-size replicas of Pizza Hut dine-in and carry-out restaurants are positioned steps from the main test kitchen. That allows the company to do more extensive on-site training of managers than it ever could before, officials said.
The building is “leaps and bounds above what we had before,” said Peter Graham, describing previous test facilities in a former J.C. Penney building.
“We have the ability now to take a product from an idea, completely through development, completely through launch, and we don’t even have to leave the building,” he said.
From the adjacent test kitchen for Yum Restaurants International came the scents of steak-topped pizza and Caprese pizza with sliced tomatoes, olive oil and buffalo mozzarella. Along with a sangria-like alcohol drink popular in Latin America and Poland, they’re examples of items expanding across the globe but not available in the U.S.
Both sides now
Still, having the Pizza Hut and Yum International kitchens separated by only a wall gives chefs from both sides of the Atlantic a chance to learn from each other, spokeswoman Stacy Albert said.
The building also was a boon to sellers of video monitors. Several dozen 40- to 50-inch monitors grace the walls and, in some cases, ceilings, heralding employee achievements, reminding employees to recycle and demonstrating food preparation techniques to assembled groups.
Those food prep shots can be streamed to Pizza Hut restaurants nationwide.
“It’s space-age,” said Bergren as he passed out hats shaped like the Pizza Hut roof to the assembled dignitaries. “It’s wired.”
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