PITTSFIELD -- After 37 years of operation, Berkshire County's first Pizza Hut franchise has served its last pie.

The Pizza Hut on Merrill Road, which opened in 1976, closed for good on Monday, according to the restaurant's manager and the building's owner.

Building owner Dan Kelly of Pittsfield said Pizza Hut didn't inform him that it was closing the restaurant until last week. The restaurant's 11 employees weren't told the eatery was closing until Friday, according to manager Kristie Chapman.

"I cried," said Chapman, who has been employed by Pizza Hut for 14 years.

Kelly said Texas-based Pizza Hut closed the eatery for economic reasons.

"They just said they have to scale down on everything because of the way the economy is going," Kelly said on Monday. "Selling $7 to $10 pizzas was not enough to carry the business."

A telephone call to Pizza Hut's media relations line seeking comment was not returned.

All of the restaurant's employees will be transferred to Pizza Hut's other Pittsfield location on South Street, which is now the company's lone remaining outlet in Berkshire County. Pizza Hut has also operated restaurants in Lee and North Adams that are no longer in operation. The chain closed the Lee outlet in 2006.

Unlike the Merrill Road eatery, the South Street Pizza Hut does not have sit down service.

"They're trying to squeeze them in," Kelly said. "I don't know many hours they're going to get."

"They said they'd do everything they can to give us all our hours," Chapman said.

According to Kelly and Chapman, Pizza Hut recently closed a few franchises in New York's Capital Region, including restaurants in East Greenbush and South Troy.

Pizza Hut opened the Merrill Road restaurant in July 1976. According to Eagle files, it was the first Pizza Hut restaurant in Western Massachusetts. When it opened, the Merrill Road Pizza Hut had 41 employees.

"In the 70's and 80's that was the busiest Pizza Hut in the country," Kelly said. "That's what they used to tell me."

But he said the eatery had slowly been losing business.

"It's been creeping up the last four or five years," he said. "It's getting worse and worse. Everybody can't afford to go out to eat."

The property has been in Kelly's family since 1962. Kelly said he plans to lease the building.

Pizza Hut is a division of Yum! Brands, the world's largest restaurant company in terms of system units with nearly 38,000 restaurants in 120 countries and territories and more than 1 million associates, according to the company's website. Based in Louisville, Ky., Yum! Brands also operates Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224