The legendary owner of a popular southern pizza chain has died at the age of 77, just months after his business reached its golden anniversary. One of his claims to fame was introducing pizza to regions of the U.S. that had never tasted it before.
According to The News Star, Johnny Huntsman of the Johnny’s Pizza House chain passed away in Oak Grove, Louisiana, after a long battle with illness.
Huntsman got his start in 1967 in Monroe, Louisiana, near where the “Duck Dynasty” family created their duck call and reality TV show empire. In an interview with The News Star during his 50th anniversary earlier this year, he said that where he grew up in Arkansas and Louisiana, pizza was a completely foreign concept to him.
"I'd never even seen a pizza before I went to college," he exclaimed. "Now I was going into the restaurant business making them."
He started Johnny’s Pizza, where he said he introduced others to America’s favorite food for the first time, too.
Huntsman explained, "The most difficult part of the business was creating an awareness about pizza.”
His “world’s smallest pizza chain,” as he would come to call it, grew into other states. But even at his flagship store in Monroe, he had to compete with a new pizza chain — California-based Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.
Competition like that is what led Huntsman, who had no money for advertising, to get creative in order to capture the public’s attention, especially when his new pizza chain was dealing with bankruptcy.
"I went to a hardware store and bought a big plastic barrel. It cost me $9. I'll never forget that. I made up a sign, got some suspenders and hung the barrel on me. I just had on jogging shorts underneath. I stood on the corner of Forsythe and 18th streets from 3 [p.m.] to dark," Huntsman related.
That incident, covered by the local news, was a turning point for his business. He was named Small Business Person of the year in Louisiana a few years later in 1992 and remains an entrepreneurial legend in the region.
He leaves behind a wife, a son, and two daughters. Please pray for his family as they deal with their loss.