PizzaNet: How a Website Changed Pizza and the World

Once upon a time in 1994, in the early days of the internet, Pizza Hut launched Pizza Net. Devoid of any frills or discernible graphic design, the website allowed customers to order pizza online. This was the first step in a revolution that allows all of us to feed ourselves when we don’t want to change out of our pajamas or leave the couch. In fact, the site is often credited as the first place people could buy a physical product online. It makes a perfect kind of sense that the very first thing people wanted to order on the internet was pizza. Pizza is an essential food, and pizza and convenience go hand in hand.

The idea was so cutting edge at the time that an LA Times article described ordering a pizza online as “the Geek Chic way to nosh.” The pilot program launched in Santa Cruz, California and could only be accessed via a browser called Mosaic. At the time, the company was worried about people playing pranks by placing false orders online, they followed up every order with a phone call to confirm. Customers paid when the pizza arrived at their door. Boy, online ordering sounds like it was complicated.

The first ever order on PizzaNet was a large pepperoni, mushroom, and extra cheese pizza. Along with pizza, customers could also order beverages. The program didn’t quite prove to be a hit, and Pizza Hut didn’t launch something resembling today’s online ordering systems until 2001. But the original PizzaNet was a visionary attempt to bring pizza to the masses in a new way, spearheaded by not the company leadership, but one particular franchise owner in Santa Cruz. The project was a collaboration between the Santa Cruz-based franchise and a local tech company, The Santa Cruz Operation, who connected POS systems to servers for restaurants, including Pizza Huts, all across the country. This local partnership turned into a national phenomenon. At the time of the site’s launch, it was one of just a few thousands websites on the entire Internet.

Whether it was effective or not, PizzaNet represented the first step toward our contemporary pizza ecosystem and cemented pizza’s place as the most important delivery food. Who knows what the world would look like today if McDonald’s had first built BurgerNet — would we all be getting French fry deliveries? Luckily, we’ll never know.

So, let’s not take this golden era of pizza for granted, where we can order whatever kind of pizza we most desire online for delivery from practically anywhere in the world. Open your Slice app, order a delicious artisan pizza from your favorite local joint, and cue up Hackers on the TV so you can reminisce about the internet of the ‘90s.

— Alyssa Morris

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