What happened to McDonald’s pizza? Our journey to the last location still selling it

In the 1980’s, McDonald’s was on its long quest of fast food domination and thriving at it. A few years back, I watched The Founder starring Michael Keaton as Ray Croc, the brains behind the rapid expansion of McDonald’s. The film really puts into perspective how the chain changed American, and global, dining habits forever. The idea of a meal where you threw away all of your utensils and packaging at the end was a virtually unheard of concept. Going into the 1970’s, the brand looked for ways to expand beyond the burgers and fries for lunch. The Egg McMuffin was created in 1972. Greeted skeptically at first, by 1981, breakfast accounted for 18% of McDonald’s sales. Having the breakfast market cornered, and being a long leader in the lunch market, McDonald’s had one problem: dinner. McDonald’s saw a $21 billion market, and pun very much intended, they wanted a piece of the pie.

McDonald’s incredibly impressive stock chart from 1967 – present (courtesy: Yahoo! Finance), note around December 1989 when the pizza rollout was happening it traded around $8.63 per share.

“McFrozen”
In 1989, the effort of McDonald’s to cut into the commanding 22% market share of Pizza Hut and 17% market share of Domino’s didn’t go unnoticed with the former critiquing their product as “McFrozen”. The issue from the offset was the struggle with wait times. McDonald’s ultimate calling card was, well, fast food. You’ll notice the advertising even tried to emphasize the customer remarking how fast his pizza was prepared in the below video.

A 1991 McDonald’s Pizza commercial.

But fast was not fast enough. While the pizzas were expanded to up to 500 locations by 1991, pizza was mostly discontinued in all McDonald’s locations by 2000. The average wait time for the pizza ended up being closer to 11 minutes rather than the targeted five and half minutes. By the new millennium, it seemed McDonald’s Pizza was over forever.

A McDonald’s Pizza promotional image from 1992.

A Rogue Franchise
In early 2015, the website Canada.com did a report on two locations in the Midwest serving McDonald’s pizza. Greg Mills who owns the Pomeroy, Ohio and Spencer, West Virginia locations according to the piece, had still been serving pizzas at his two locations. From everything I have read, it seems at the time these two locations simply just continued making the pizzas with the original recipe. When word got out that the pizzas were still being sold with personal pies going for as little as $2.75 or $3.25 and family size pizzas at $6, these small town McDonald’s became internationally viral. People were traveling very long distances to try the pizza.

Unfortunately, when word got to corporate, the fun was put to bed. It was reported that the restaurant posted the following sign on their doors in summer 2017: “Effective August 31st we will no longer be allowed to sell McPizza. This decision was made by McDonald’s Corporate office, Not your local staff. It was our Pleasure and Honor to be one of only two McDonalds in The USA to carry this Great product for the past 15 years. We apologize to you our valued Guest and thank you for your support of McPizza over the past 15 years.”

But one McDonald’s Pizza location still remains…
When I first read about the Ohio and West Virginia locations that served pizza no longer doing so, I was disappointed I never got to go. I admit, there is something intriguing to visiting the locations in a rural place where one owner held out serving pizza long past the commercial period of McDonald’s doing so. However, I was able to still go big and have McDonald’s pizza. On a visit to Florida to see family, I decided to rent a car and check out the “World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s” in Orlando, Florida.

Located in the heart of Orlando tourism, this location not only serves pizza, but also custom pasta, omelettes, and boasts a McCafe that more closely resembles a Starbucks, packed with delicious looking desserts. Open 24 hours a day, the location boasts a 22 foot play place and 51 arcade games. Additionally, there was an area ala Dave & Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese where one could turn in tickets for prizes.

The McCafe in the “World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s” in Orlando, Florida. Photo: BroStocks Media.

Now on to the matter at hand, how was the pizza? It felt rather surreal to order pizza at McDonald’s. I walked up to the touch screen surrounded by a large fish bowl (among lots of other quirky decor in this location), and got to work. I ordered a full size pizza with tomatoes and onions as toppings. Off to the side, I noticed an open kitchen where the pizzas were being prepared in a brick oven.

Pizza on a McDonald’s touch screen. Photo: BroStocks Media.
McDonald’s brick oven. Photo by: BroStocks media.

Now, the wrap that McDonald’s got, of course, in the 90’s that ultimately led to the downfall of the pizza was the time it took to prepare. I was not thinking at the time but I saved my receipt and have the timestamp of the photo I took of the pizza right away. The store was moderately crowded but not overwhelmingly crowded. Upon ordering the pizza on touchscreen, I was advised by the computer screen to grab the corresponding plastic locator number to put on my table. The pizza receipt says “11:36 am”. My pizza was delivered to my table at 11:49 am according to the photo I took. Not bad, but understandable why this did not stick as a mass market phenomenon. The staff here were incredibly friendly, the one manager could tell I was in some food tourism state of mind and offered to take my photo. It truly made a visit to this location a worthwhile experience. Plus, who wouldn’t want to play some arcade basketball or Mario Kart after woofing down a McDonald’s pizza?

The author’s pizza with a large Coke Zero to wash it down. Photo: BroStocks Media.

While trying the McDonald’s pizza at the “World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s” was quite an experience, it is understandable why it could not last. To have a quality pizza experience, it simply requires more than five and a half minutes of preparation. While places like Blaze Pizza have been able to create a fast and quality pizza experience in roughly three minutes, it is hard to tell if McDonald’s will ever try to revive the pizza adopting this model. One thing is for certain, you can never underestimate McDonald’s in their ability to continually innovate and perform in a way that is highly successful and highly profitable. Time well tell, but until then enjoy our below video footage from our visit to this highly unique McDonald’s location.

Footage from our visit.

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