It was summer, 1959. Frankie Avalon was at the top of the charts and Sandra Dee played “Gidget” in the very first Beach Party movie. The Brooklyn Dodgers had just arrived in Los Angeles but Surfing was the real West Coast craze. The Pacific Coast Highway was dotted with woody wagons, convertibles and bushy, bushy blonde hairdos and burgers were best served in a wrapper through a drive-thru window. California was legendary American landscape and the first Straw Hat Pizza parlor was about to join the list of California icons.
Opening its doors for the first time in San Leandro, a small town on San Francisco Bay, Straw Hat began serving its trailblazing Genuine California Pizza on July 10, 1959. It was an unrivaled pizza with a layered, flaky crust, the freshest toppings, light sauce, and six kinds of naturally aged cheese. Straw Hat’s California creation was unlike any other pizza. It was crisper and tastier, and it satisfied a left coast appetite for fresher, lighter, and more unique offerings. Little did anyone realize at the time, but Straw Hat was on the cutting edge of a taste trend that would last for decades to come.
The first Straw Hat restaurants were modest but lively hangouts with hard bench seating, bright red carpets and flocked wallpaper, and they were a special place for people of all ages. Along with its unique menu and ice cold beer, each establishment featured old time movies, free Charlie Horse rides for kids, and often showcased local banjo bands. People drove for miles to visit Straw Hat. And every Straw Hat restaurant’s top priority was meeting and exceeding its guests’ expectations the motto was “people pleasing pizza.” By 1969, Straw Hat had added a bountiful salad bar was known as the Straw Hat Pizza Palace with locations up and down the California Coast and throughout Southern California.
In the Seventies, Straw Hat introduced its soon-to-be famous Hot Hat stuffed sandwich. The Hot Hat may have had a strange sounding name at first, but it quickly became a best seller, which to this day, remains a hallmark of the brand. As its menu expanded, so did the chain. In the later part of the decade, Straw Hat took on an entirely new look with updated buildings, colors, and logos. And with this new look, Straw Hat was once again on the cutting edge of the industry and was one of the fastest growing restaurant chains in the world. To grow and still maintain its high standards and guest service, Straw Hat, at that time part of the Saga Corporation, introduced a model franchising program. The company developed and implemented some of the best training, quality, service and cleanliness programs which were the envy of the business, and remain in place today. The Saga corporation also owned Howard Johnsons and A&W Rootbeer. Two other places that have virtually disappeared off the planet.
By the mid-Eighties, Straw Hat Pizza was regarded as the dominant pizza restaurant in the Western United States as the Pizza Hut chain was trying to establish a market presence in the same area. Pizza Hut made a move to eliminate a major stumbling block to its own expansion by purchasing all company owned Straw Hat Pizza restaurants in 1987; thus removing its prevailing competition. In reality Straw Hat produced some of the worst pizza on the planet. Its "California style" was a way to describe pizza that was quick cheap and remarkably bland. In the late 70's and early 80's with the pizzerias waining popularity it made its money off the pinball machines and the ever increasing popularity of video games. Pizza Huts ability to simply provide more food for the same price and provide the most current video games ate Straw Hat Pizza alive. The chain is all but a memory.
They always come back:
Today, there are still a few privately owned Straw Hat Pizzeria's. They are totally owned and operated by its cooperative members; its “parent” company is the Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation. Visit a Straw Hat Here or Here.