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Frank Gray

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
A note from management hangs inside the entryway, left, at the Pizza Hut on East State Boulevard on Monday afternoon where a carved illustration, right, depicting the store's opening July 20, 1972, used to hang.

Pizza Hut hoping bit of its history is returned

Submitted by Pizza Hut
A photograph submitted by Pizza Hut shows the picture that was stolen.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
A note from the management hangs inside the entryway.

We missed the anniversary, but 40 years ago last month on East State Boulevard near Coliseum Boulevard, a guy named Dick Freeland opened the first Pizza Hut in Fort Wayne.

A few years later the restaurant was remodeled, but someone commemorated that first location by producing a carved illustration of the original building, complete with a character called Pizza Pete, a company mascot that has long since fallen out of use.

The business hung the little piece of artwork, about 12 inches by 18 inches, on the wall near the front door of the restaurant, where it remained for a quarter of a century, more or less.

Customers got used to seeing the piece of work.

Then, about 10:45 p.m. one Monday night a few weeks ago, a little bit before closing time, when business was slow and waitresses and cooks were cleaning up, someone pulled the artwork off the wall.

The framed piece of art was just fastened into the stucco with small screws. Those small screws apparently made it easy to yank the piece right off the wall, but then again it never occurred to anyone that someone would try to steal it.

General manager Kelly Broyles notified police of the theft, but the artwork is long gone.

Some customers who have frequented the restaurant for years or even decades have noticed that the carving is missing.

"Customers pull me aside every day" to ask about the missing piece, Broyles said. "I've had customers offer to put up reward money" for the return of the work.

That anyone would even take the piece mystifies Broyles.

"It has no monetary value," Broyles said.

But there's emotional or sentimental value to the people within the company.

"It's part of our corporate history," Broyles said.

Broyles has put a note on the wall where the piece used to hang. It asks that whoever took the piece to please return it, no questions asked.

The store marked its 40th anniversary July 20, and that carving would have been a central part of the occasion.

"We celebrated our 40th anniversary, and we celebrated it with a piece of paper on the wall begging for our picture back," Broyles said.

Whoever took it probably might have taken it on impulse. As Broyles said, it has no value as a work of art. You wouldn't want to hang it on the living room wall, any more than you'd want a portrait of the McDonald Brothers or Ray Kroc or J.F. McCullough and Sherwood Noble above your sofa or in your man-cave. McCullough and Noble, by the way, started Dairy Queen.

By now, whoever took it has probably discovered that it isn't the kind of thing anyone wants to buy. It would be nice if they'd wrap it up in newspaper and leave it at the door of one of the Pizza Huts in town.

Strange packages cause a panic these days, though, so maybe a clear dry cleaning bag would be a better option.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).

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