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A History as Genuine as Our Pizza



Straw Hat Pizza was formed July 10th, 1959 by Charlie Olsen and Bill Henderlong. They had been working in the industry at the time and felt they could provide a better tasting product and family friendly environment. The first Straw Hat Pizza opened in 1960 in San Leandro, CA. They picked the name because of the types of uniforms worn by many pizzerias in California at the time. This way customers would quickly identify with and understand the type of product they sold.

Straw Hat Pizza introduced the Charlie Horse, named after one of the founders, as a way to attract in families. This was a free kids ride and was very popular.

In 8 years Straw Hat Pizza grew to 20 stores throughout Northern California.

Old-tyme cook taking a pizza out of the oven


“People Pleasin Pizza!” In July 1969, the founders sold Straw Hat Pizza to the Saga Corporation. Saga Corporation also purchased Pizza Palace and merged the two brands into the “Straw Hat Pizza Palace”. The combined chain had 48 locations.

  • Saga Corporation: Founded in 1948 by William Scandling, Bill Laughlin and Harry Anderson. The cafeteria at Hobart College in Kalamazoo, MI had gone broke and the three men decided to reopen it and operate it. Their college food service grew to become one of the largest food companies in the US with revenues in excess of $161 million in 1970. In addition to Straw Hat Pizza, Saga Corp owned the “Velvet Turtle”—a find dining restaurant, “Black Angus”—a Steak House and “Refectory”—a casual dining chain.
  • “Pizza Palace” was founded in 1961 in Santa Barbara with their first location opening in Torrance, CA. It was owned by Bill Smith and Chuck Gerhardt. In 1969 it had 28 locations in Los Angeles through Santa Barbara. It was a pioneer in QSR at the time and was known for having live music in the evening.

The décor at the time was wooden benches and tables, red velvet wall paper, tiffany style lighting creating an Old English atmosphere.

Straw Hat Pizza Palace sign from 1969


In 1972 the name was shortened to Straw Hat Pizza. The 1970’s Straw Hat Pizza became the place to go for live music at night. It was around this time the first video games introduced into a Pizza Parlor.

Cheese and meat pizzas from 1971


Market Fresh Salad Bar! Straw Hat Pizza added full salad bars to the restaurants. It also received a décor upgrade with Grass cloth wallpaper, booths, chairs and finished table tops.

Interior view of a Straw Hat dining room including a play horse for children to ride


“Hats off to Hot Hat!” Straw Hat Pizza introduces our famous Hot Hat sandwich. A great product with meat and cheese wrapped in our amazing pizza dough and baked to perfection.


Straw Hat Pizza reaches 230 total stores (128 company owned, 102 franchised).

Exterior view of a 1980s-era Straw Hat Pizza


“All for Fun, Fun for All”. Straw Hat Pizza introduces a new logo. This includes our three color triangle and is on a brown background.

Tim Conway becomes the brand’s spokesperson and starts making his very memorable commercials for Straw Hat Pizza.


On June 10, 1986 the Saga Corporation agreed to be purchased by the Marriott Corporation. This made Marriott the third biggest food service provider in the United States.


Marriott Corporation sells all Straw Hat Pizzas to Pizza Hut so they can convert them over and get a foothold in the California market. The Straw Hat Pizza franchisees at the time did not like the idea of becoming Pizza Huts so they fought in court for the rights to keep the brand and won. They formed the “Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation” to support the stores and keep the brand alive. This was a unique form of ownership where the franchisees each owned a share of the parent company.


“Best of All!” Straw Hat Pizza introduces new Gourmet Pizzas into its lineup including our Lemon Pepper Chicken Pizza which is still a favorite of many current guests.

1990 gourmet pizza surrounded by fresh ingredients


Straw Hat Pizza has 60 locations as part of the Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation.


“Genuine California Pizza!” Straw Hat Pizza focuses on highlighting all the great things that makes a “California Style” Pizza—thin layered crust, tangy sauce and a blend of amazing cheeses! The brand updates its look to include larger televisions and a wide range of sports and entertainment décor.


The Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation forms Straw Hat Restaurants, Inc. to help grow the brand under a franchise model.


The Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation votes to dissolve and have all stores become franchises under Straw Hat Restaurants, Inc. This transition resulted in complications and halted our growth until 2016.


The Straw Hat Pizza is franchised by Straw Hat Restaurants Inc. We are actively franchising and still sell the same amazing pizzas we have since 1959 along with our Hot Hats, Groovy Twists and other amazing products. Our emphasis is on creating a great place for you and your family to enjoy great food and have fun.

A large crowd at Straw Hat Pizza watching sports on TV screens

Straw Hat Restaurants

Straw Hat Restaurants Inc. is a privately held company run by a board of directors. The board is primarily made up of store owners so they understand the business and the brands success or failure impacts them directly.

Sal Listek
Sal Listek is a Member of the Board of Directors, a part time position. Mr. Listek has been a principal of Listek Enterprise, Inc. since 1991. He has owned and operated the Straw Hat Pizza restaurant in Brentwood, California since July 2004.
Randy Wise
Randy Wise has been a Straw Hat Pizza franchise owner since 1984. He and his wife currently own and operate a location in Santa Maria, CA. Mr. Wise has been an active Board member for the majority of his franchise career. He presently serves as the Board's Secretary/Treasurer.
Denise Jongerius
Denise Jongerius has been a Straw Hat owner since 2001 with her partnership in the Long Beach, CA Straw Hat. During her tenure as an owner, Ms. Jongerius has served as a Director on the Straw Hat Board, conducted new owner training, and participated on the Straw Marketing Committee. As a longtime member of the Research and Development committee, Ms. Jongerius currently participates in testing of new products.