Here is a phrase that pulls at my heartstrings every time: Used to be a Pizza Hut. I think about the eponymous blog every time I pass one of those too-recognizable structures. The one in my hometown is now a Mexican restaurant. It’s probably more beloved than Pizza Hut was, but whenever I see it, I can’t help but think of the weekend afternoons I spent at that Pizza Hut as a kid, where I’d chatter about my love of the Backstreet Boys or Pokémon and feel unbridled excitement at my rare treat of soda, served — of course — in one of those craggy-textured red plastic cups.
When that location closed, my Pizza Hut days ended. The pizza chain has been sparse in every other place I’ve lived, and while there is technically a joint Taco Bell-Pizza Hut not far from me now, I’m unhappy to report that the idea is far better than the reality. Pizza Hut, for me, exists best as a place to project my nostalgia — a red-roofed mind palace for all my pleasant memories of the 1990s and early 2000s.
True to the era, these memories were excavated yesterday when American Girl (yes, that American Girl) announced two new dolls. Part of its historical collection, which creates characters around specific decades as an education strategy, twins Isabel and Nicki are meant to be from 1999, that glorious glimmer of time before millennial kids learned to forever freak out about the world ending. It certainly is humbling to realize that this time period might now be as instructive to Generation Alpha as the 1934-themed doll Kit’s Great Depression-era life was meant to be for me as a kid.
I’m in awe of the Pizza Hut X American Girl accessory set, which includes a doll-sized version of THE CUP pic.twitter.com/6SCN9FlIHV— Harry Hill (@veryharryhill) February 22, 2023
Accordingly, Isabel and Nicki’s accessory options, meant to teach younger kids about previous eras of American life, are a painfully relatable time capsule of ’90s nostalgia. There is a bulky desktop computer, complete with a green alien coffee mug; a purple inflatable chair with a CD player; and a Pizza Hut-themed toy set. The toy set, which retails for $32, comes with a tiny version of American Girl’s Super Slumber Parties book; a doll-sized personal pan pizza topped with pepperoni and served in a true-to-the-era paper box; shakers of pretend Parmesan and red pepper flakes; and of course, that classic red plastic Pizza Hut cup.
The addition of a ’90s replica pin and a “free pizza” certificate indicates that the doll-sized fake pizza was earned through BOOK IT!, Pizza Hut’s popular reading initiative that offers kids a free personal pizza in exchange for reading books. “While the program still very much exists, BOOK IT! arguably reached its peak cultural influence during the early 1990s, when I was in elementary school,” Kim Kelly wrote for Food & Wine. “It was a brilliant way to encourage kids aged 5–12 to read, and in my own experience at least, a boon to cash-strapped parents who still wanted to be able to take their rugrats out for a treat now and then.”
In real life, Pizza Hut, for me, will never be the same as it felt as a starry-eyed kid back in the ’90s. But I’m glad the memory of those days will live on for future generations through a perfect personal pizza that you earned all by yourself, and the promise of a red cup full of soda.