Pizza Hut vs. Papa John's

Updated: 04 Aug 2009
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I had always been under the impression that the Chinese do not like dairy products, especially cheese. So imagine my surprise when I moved here 3 years ago to find out that you can get pizza everywhere, and the Chinese love it. Just another contradiction of many I've discovered while living in China. Now as I've mentioned before, it seems that every western restaurant has pizza on the menu. However, where did all this pizza loving start? If you don't know the answer to that, you haven't been in China very long; Pizza Hut or  必胜客 (Pronounced Bìshèngkè in Pinyin.) of course!
In America, independent pizza restaurants are everywhere as Italian food is the most popular ethnic food in America. However, like most things American, pizza in America looks nothing like pizza in Italy. And it's the American version of pizza that is so popular in China.  But it's Pizza Hut that is the biggest chain in my home country. Pizza Hut was founded in 1958 in the state of Kansas in America. Depending on where you live in America, there may be many sit down style Pizza Hut's, or like in my home state of Minnesota, mostly delivery and take out locations. 
According to Yum Brand's website (the parent company of Pizza Hut and KFC), "Pizza Hut was the first restaurant chain to introduce pizza and Western-style casual dining to China in 1990, and the first to introduce pizza delivery to China in 2001". The first location was, and still is, in the Dongzhimen area of Beijing. There are now over 400 sit down style restaurants and 79 delivery only stores in Mainland China. Pizza Hut's menu in China has also recently undergone a large overhaul. Less emphasis is on the pizza now. For instance, you can't even order a classic American pepperoni pizza. You must order a cheese pizza and tell them you want to add pepperoni. (Not easy to do if you don't speak Chinese) The new menu features many different rice dishes, and more upscale food like fillet of beef and grilled lamb. It's an interesting move during an economic downturn.
In China, Pizza Hut offers three different kinds of crust; pan, edge (it's rectangular), and stuffed crust. (Crust edges stuffed with cheese or meat). A little different than in America where you can also get a thin style and hand tossed, which is a more traditional style of crust. So which is better? We'll get to that soon, but first let's look at Pizza Hut's newest chain competitor, Papa John's.
Started by John Schnatter (the man you see in the ads) and according to their U.S. website, the first store opened in Jeffersonville Indiana in 1984. (Though the U.K. site says 1985.) Papa John's is the 3rd largest Pizza chain in America with almost all locations being delivery and carry-out only. Only a few are full service sit down restaurants.
In China, Papa John's opened it's first store in Shanghai in October, 2003 and now has over 100 locations focused mainly in the eastern and southeastern part of China. All the locations are sit down style restaurants, Though many do offer delivery. The menu is not nearly as large as Pizza Hut's. There are some rice dishes and spaghetti dishes, but the emphasis here is on pizza. Xiamen currently has 1 location in the Crown Plaza and Paragon building, 1 block from the Minfa shopping mall. So far, the restaurant hasn't caught fire like Pizza Hut. You can go to the Pizza Hut at Minfa during dinner and most likely wait 15-30 minutes for a table, while at the same time go to Papa John's and be able to sit down right away.
So who's got the better pizza? That's a hard question to answer really. Read on to find out why. All the pizza's I rated are based on a cheese and pepperoni pizza.
Pizza Hut offers a pan pizza while Papa John's does not. What exactly is pan pizza? It's pizza dough that has been raised within an oil soaked pan and cooled for a few hours afterwards. Pizza Hut's pan pizza is slightly greasy from the oil in the pan. It has a buttery flavored crust that is crunchy on the outside and a little doughy and fluffy on the inside. The difference between the American and Chinese version is that the Chinese version has much less sauce on it. There is also less cheese on the Chinese version. Overall though, I do enjoy Pizza Hut's Pan pizza. The overall taste is close to the American version. There is also an Edge pizza. Again, not offered by Papa John's. The Edge pizza is a rectangular size pizza that has toppings all the way to the edge of the pizza. There is no detailed thicker crust around the pizza. It has a slightly crisp crust with a flaky bottom. Like the pan, there is less sauce, but more cheese. I also like this pizza too. The last pizza offered I have yet to try. It is the stuffed crust pizza, and once again not offered by Papa John's. (See a trend here?) I don't like the idea of a pizza with the all around crust stuffed with anything. All the pizza's come in a regular or large size. (Though you can get a mini pan pizza for lunch)
Now on to Papa John's where you can get 9, 12, or 14 inch size pizza's. According to Papa John's, the pizza in China is almost exactly that as in the U.S. The only difference is the sauce is a little lighter with less salt. They offer the two style's of pizza's that you can get at an American Pizza Hut, but not a Chinese one. The first is thin crust. Available only in 12 or 14 inch size, not many places in Xiamen offer a pizza like this. It is a very thin and crunchy crust. There is more sauce and cheese than Pizza Hut's. However, it does tend to harden a little too much after about 10 minutes. I do like this pizza. The 12 inch is easy to eat for one person as there is much less crust to fill you up. Their second pizza is a traditional hand tossed pizza lIke most pizza's in Xiamen. I like this too. The big difference here is that the crust edge has a distinct large roundness to it. When making the pizza, the cook pushes down the dough and rolls up a large thicker crust on the end and works his hands all around the pizza this way. It does make for an easy pizza to eat with the hands while holding the end. You also can enjoy a more bread like taste when eating the crust ends of this pizza. The crust has a slightly crisp and nutty flavor to it with a light and fluffy inside. Again, like the thin crust, there is plenty of sauce and cheese on it. Unique to Papa John's pizza, is the side of garlic sauce you can dip the pizza into (or pour on the pizza) and 2 pepperoncini peppers, an Italian slightly spicy pepper.
Here is the breakdown in price for the pepperoni pizzas. Note that you must ask for pepperoni on a Pizza Hut cheese pizza. The price includes the 10 Yuan add on. Also, Pizza Hut does not list the size of their pizza's, only regular and large. They are a bit smaller than the standard 12 and 14 inch American size in my opinion, though I didn't have a ruler.
Pizza Hut Pan/Edge 11 inch- 66 Yuan. 13 inch- 86 Yuan
Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust 11 inch- 75 Yuan. 13 inch- 95 Yuan
Papa John's Hand Tossed 9 inch- 63 Yuan
Papa John's Thin Crust/Hand Tossed 12 inch- 87 Yuan. 14 inch- 107 Yuan
So cleary Pizza Hut is cheaper, while only a bit smaller in size. But is it better? It really depends on what kind of pizza you are in the mood for as both chains offer completely different styles of pizza. The only difference is that Papa John's adds more amounts of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni's to their pizza. There is one thing that sway's me to Papa John's though. It's the concept they brought over from America that no one else in China offers. (That I've found) The soda is 8 Yuan and comes with FREE RE-FILLS! For me that's enough!

Winner Papa John's
Till next time,

SOURCE: By Jay, American food critic in Xiamen

Wikipedia, company websites, and various news sites were use in research for this article.

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Comments Area ( Total Comments: 1 )
Pocahontas Commented on 31 Aug 2009
I went to a pizza restaurant in Changsha with friends yesterday. The pepperoni pizza really surprised me. My friends could see how much i enjoy the food there and one of them said"you are so happy now!" I told them i love Changsha for the food.(Also because we had been to a Korean restaurant which is the best i have experienced). However, i never had such good pizza in Xiamen. They asked me"Do you have Papa John's in Xiamen?" I told them there is a new opened one that i learnt this info from this article which has left me deep impression. Suddendly i realized we might be just at Papa John's, then confirmed with them...I didn't know because i saw the Chinese name of this restaurant ???, and i dont' know it is the translation of Papa John's. I am happy that i still can get the good pizza in Xiamen...and now i am back!!!!!!!!!!