The Sad, Stupid Tale Of When McDonald's Tried To Sell Pizza
Research and development at McDonald's must be a lot like creating a character in a video game. You just bolt on as many ill-fitting parts to your creation as you possibly can until you march that monstrosity out there for the world to do what they will with. You start with a hamburger patty that looks like shit foraged from every woodland creature hammered into one piece and then just begin piling garbage on top of that. Before you know it, you've got the McForager, our turd patty topped with bacon, eggs, hot sauce, onions, and, because no create-a-character is complete without this, a wacky hat that is weirdly a tad too large for the character so it kind of hovers above the model's head as if it's scared to touch down.
Everyone knows about the McRib or the outrageous menu items found at McDonald's locations around the globe, but one of the red and yellow's most glorious failures came when they tried to navigate into a culinary lane far outside of their usual wheelhouse ... pizza. This is the history of McPizza, McDonald's foray into our country's greatest cheesy love.
The McOrigins of a McBadMcIdea
The McDonald's of the late '70s/early '80s wasn't exactly like what we've got today. Nowadays, you can roll into a McDonald's at 4 AM, driving a hearse with a python seatbelted in the passenger seat, waving a katana at the employee, and you'll still be able to leave with your bag of radiant brown whatever that will somehow both lessen the next day's hangover while making it demonstrably worse. Back in the day, McDonald's was viewed as a lunch spot, with some breakfast options there for you, too. They were not seen as the all-day choice they are today, and they desperately wanted to break into the American dinner scene. Knowing that if you had your McMuffin for breakfast, your burger for lunch, the next logical choice would be to come back for a McPizza, they got to work.
This jingle certainly doesn't inspire much confidence.
Watching along as Pizza Hut gobbled up their dinner market, McDonald's developed a quick-cook oven that could blast these pizzas to life for their franchises around the country. I'd imagine the urgency, brilliance, and dedication that the corporate team at McDonald's puts forth when it comes to even making one cent more over a decade-long span would solve all of the world's biggest dilemmas if they worked towards them instead. But nope, they've got french fry Eintsten dedicating himself to engineering a salting gun that doesn't waste a single fleck; meanwhile, McOppenheimer is close to cracking the code on a chicken sandwich that when you shit it out, you can scoop out of the toilet and plant to grow a tree of QR codes to scan for your next visit to get 55 cents off your next purchase of a medium Dr. Pepper, but he doesn't yet know his McShittree will kill millions in the process.
After racing to put the expensive new ovens in locations around the country, McDonald's was poised to roll out their latest experiment. With the promise that their pizzas would take less than 10 minutes to be ready. As opposed to ... other pizza options ... which take, like, 13 max and are unquestionably more legitimate. Either way, McDonald's was poised to rock the world and become the dinner stop of choice for everyone with their new creation. Which, before we get to how that, of course, never happened, we should probably get a closer look at the product itself to gain insight into one of the reasons why.
Tastes Just Like New York ... 1980s New York
Look, let's not beat around the bush here. Any pizza is good pizza. The last thing you want to do is be one of those assholes that turns their nose up at a slice. We've all had a work function where they ordered a mess of plain pies from some local joint that are aggressively fine. Just fine. But for some reason, even bad pizza can be elevated to the divine because it is still goddamn pizza. And goddamn pizza is a gift from god. Genuinely the only one that he has seemingly bestowed on us. So I'm not going to sit here and say that the McPizza deserves a beating for looking exactly what you'd imagine a McPizza would be like.
That said, it does look exactly like what you would think a McPizza would look like, so that alone is enough to understand how it did not exactly light the world on fire (heartburn aside). If you were a consumer in the '80s and could choose between this or running to the Pizza Hut next door that specializes in making a pizza -- that is probably not much better but has pizza in their name -- you're going to the pizza specialists nine times out of 10. Not to mention, McDonald's had less customizable offerings with just a few different sizes to choose from.
Remember, back in the day, Pizza Hut was the Wild West and not just because of the elevated risk of dysentery. Everyone has stories of that local Pizza Hut that used to have a buffet where you could just graze directly out of a pizza trough until you exploded into red pepper flakes and were reincarnated as a neverending pepperoni that you could nibble on for eternity. So no, McDonald's pizza clearly was not good enough to hold its own in that fight, but the real issues with this pie were far more unfixable than a mediocre slice.
A Half-Baked Idea
With the McPizza not necessarily clicking with audiences around the country, it all began to fall apart like the toppings on a shitty frozen pizza running away from you and hitting the floor before you can even get it into the oven. One of the main issues was time. McDonald's whole thing is pretty much the ability to get food inside of you, then outside of you, in the amount of time it takes to chop a tomato at home. When that convenience is broken, everything goes off the rails. With the McPizza, though they promised expediency, it still wasn't enough for those who were accustomed to having their meals handed over in two minutes, not 10. On top of this, it was creating a logjam at drive-thrus across the nation.
For some dumbass reason, McDonald's was allowing people to order these at the window, causing backups in the line. We all know that feeling, too. When we can just tell the car in front of us is going to be a problem. Some bumper sticker that tells us they're going to cause shit. Send food back. I'm sure people at this time knew when they were behind a McPizza car. There is no way that car didn't look like a Ford Fiesta at the end of a demolition derby, because someone getting a McPizza is on their last legs as a human. Another issue with passing a pie to your car was that the boxes straight up didn't always fit through the window. Imagine the shuffle of shame needed to Tetris that pizza out of the McDonald's window and into your beater with a crowd watching on. It was the fast-food version of straight-up shitting yourself in public (until KFC introduced Famous Bowls, which allowed you to actually do that). All you can do is own it and walk that bitch off with your head held high, middle finger in the air as you rip your sadness mobile straight into oncoming traffic.
It wasn't just the long wait that doomed the McPizza; it was the price. At the time, you could get yourself a burger for something around two dollars, but the pizza would clock in closer to eight bucks. Add in the drinks and fries, and you were quickly spending far too much money at a McDonald's to be comfortable with. During this lockdown, I got an order of McDonald's delivered to me that clocked in at over 20 bucks, and I could barely get the nuggets past the concrete lump in my throat, which had built up from my aggressive crying at my life choices. In a toxic combination of the pizza not being all that good, taking too long to be not all that good, and costing too much for something that's not all that good, the McPizza was nearly dead.
But like the way a McDonald's hamburger patty can live on the top shelf of your closet for a century, only to be pulled out and somehow actually look more appetizing than when it got stored, the McPizza wasn't going to be that simple to kill.
The McPizza's Golden Years
The death of the McPizza was a slow one. Though it was pretty heavily phased out in the '90s after the logistical concerns above brought it down, many locations kept serving it. That's because they had been saddled with the massive, expensive ovens the company had sold them as their next big thing. Many of these locations kept pumping out the pizzas, not necessarily because there was some great demand, but because if you've got a McPizza oven and don't use it ... well, then, you've actually probably got a pretty good business model.
In 2017, the last three McDonald's locations still doling out their cheesy slop finally cut it off. But there's one place in this country that doesn't have laws. An area so bereft of class, dignity, or common decency that they simply will not stop making the McPizza, and there's not one thing we can do about it. Our great national pockmark remains the only hellmouth where you can still land a McPizza. This, of course, is Florida.
At the Epic McD in Orlando, the McPizza is still on the menu. Let's take just a moment to dive into what the Epic McD is. Inanely donned, "The World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's," the Epic McD is Florida leaning into themselves. You almost have to respect it. Like how a hockey player gets a tooth knocked loose and just owns it from there, Florida has fully embraced exactly what it is and simply doesn't give a damn anymore. A McDonald's like this is an excellent example of how they do this. You can get all kinds of terrible food at the Epic McD, but their honor as being the last remaining McDonald's with pizza is probably what it's most known for.
The modern pizza looks precisely like what you'd imagine, one of those sad stadium personal pies that's like a drunk explained pizza to an alien chef and they shot this thing out. It's probably entirely serviceable, and that's all. If you really want to experience this legendary failure of fast food history for yourself, all you have to do is make like a modern Dante and go through the infernos that Orlando has to offer to try one. Only in this one, Virgil is actually just the wrestler Virgil, and the only way to heaven is to reverse your order of that McPizza at the last moment for a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese like a redeemed human being.
Top image: Dan Keck/Wikimedia Commons