Pizza Hut Employee Spots Hidden 'Message' In Customer's Order That Has Her Calling The Police

 

As orders poured in, workers at the Florida Pizza Hut worked like drones to kneed dough, spread sauce, and drizzle toppings on top of their tasty creations. They were so enveloped in the mindless meditation of pizza making that they almost didn't spot a peculiar detail in an order flashing on their computer system: a message that sent workers scrambling to the authorities.

The Order

Pizza makers first saw a normal request appear in the system: one large pepperoni pizza with garlic sauce for dunking. But then they checked the special request section of the order and stopped dead in their tracks. Was this a bad prank? It couldn't be. The order had come from a regular customer after all. Her name was Cheryl Treadway.

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Proud Florida Mom

Cheryl Treadway couldn't have been happier with the life she carved out for herself. The 25-year-old mother of three lived with her boyfriend Ethan Nickerson in Florida, where the family enjoyed life under the warm sun nearly all year-round. Cheryl loved Ethan, but it was her kids who truly kept her going.

Cheryl Treadway

Three Beautiful Boys

Any parent would be proud to raise three beautiful sons like these. They were well-behaved and absolutely adored Cheryl. While they also loved their father, Ethan sadly struggled with drug addiction, which caused occasional outbursts and dangerously irrational behavior. Cheryl was always fearful that, at some point, the kids would find themselves stuck in the middle of a violent incident — and that's what happened.

Ethan Nickerson / Facebook

A Struggling Addict

Cheryl knew Ethan loved his children more than anything, but he was in the throes of drug addiction, and the substances completely took his ability to process reality in a calm and rational way. One spring afternoon, Cheryl and Ethan got into a particularly heated argument while Ethan was under the influence.

Ethan Nickerson / Facebook

A Life-Threatening Situation

The children were at school at the time the heated incident started unfolding, much to the relief of Cheryl. As the argument grew more intense, Ethan snatched Cheryl's phone out of her hand. His eyes were filled with inebriated rage, and Cheryl feared for her safety. Then, he grabbed a knife from the kitchen. Cheryl now knew the situation was life-threatening, and she needed to find a way out.

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Picking Up The Kids

Even though Cheryl felt some relief that her children weren't there to see their father brandishing a knife at their mom, the school day was ending and she was going to have to scoop them up to bring them home. Ethan, knowing full-well if he let her take the drive alone she'd seek help, hopped in the car with her.

Cheryl Treadway

Worst Ride Ever

The car ride was the most awkwardly uncomfortable trip of Cheryl's life. She stared out at the road in a daze while Ethan sat next to her, glaring violently at her face. She wanted to cry out to passing cars but knew Ethan was ready to lash out at a moment's notice. The couple arrived to the school, picked up the kids, and returned home. The kids had no idea what was unfolding, but Cheryl soon started plotting the escape.

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Plotting The Escape

To start, she worked with what she knew: Her kids were hungry after a full day at school, so she saw this as an opportunity to reach out to someone outside of her home. There was one food in particular both she and Ethan knew the kids loved, so she decided that would be the focal point of her plan.

Cheryl Treadway

Opting For The Hut

The couple's kids, like most children, loved pizza, and their favorite spot to grab a pie was Pizza Hut. They were regular customers, so Ethan didn't find it odd when Cheryl suggested they fire up the Pizza Hut app and order their usual meal. Ethan, however, kept a close watch on Cheryl as she ordered the food, ensuring she didn't pull a fast one and call somebody for help.

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The Long Wait Begins

Cheryl finished punching in her order on the phone. The kids still were completely oblivious to the tension in the house, but Cheryl knew at any moment Ethan could easily change that with the flash of a knife. The mother anxiously waited for the restaurant to receive her order and send a delivery driver to the house.

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A Strange Order

The Pizza Hut location the family always ordered from was one of the busiest restaurants in town, but because Cheryl got it so frequently, the workers all recognized her name when it came in, and they knew to put extra attention into ensuring her pizza was perfect. However, the place came to a sudden halt when they noticed something alarming on the order ticket.

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An Alarming Message

Every ticket had an area where customers could write in messages in case they wanted their orders tailored to certain specifications. Employees were used to requests such as "extra pepperoni please" or "pizza well done." However, on Cheryl's ticket was written, "Please help. Get 911 to me. 911hostage help." This was something workers could notignore.

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Alerting The Police

Cindy Hamilton, a branch manager with 28 years of Pizza Hut experience under her belt, didn't hesitate at all when shown the ticket. She knew Cheryl well, and this was no prank. Immediately after seeing the message she phoned the authorities and gave them the address. Hamilton could only hope she rang them before something horrific happened.

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Waiting A Lifetime

Cheryl's anxiety was through the roof. Would the Pizza Hut employees even pay attention to the words she wrote? Would they think it was a joke if they did? It seemed like a lifetime went by as she and Ethan sat in silence, but suddenly, a horde of police vehicles pulled up out front! Ethan, however, didn't see them yet, and Cheryl knew if he realized what was happening he might physically hurt any one of them.

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Meticulous Planning Required

The police, having no idea what kind of situation they were walking into, couldn't just barge into the home with their guns blazing. But, they knew there was the possibility of kids involved based on what the Pizza Hut manager told them about the family, so their tactics required extreme precision. Suddenly, Cheryl burst out of the home in a frenzy.

Fleeing The Home

Cheryl flung open the front door of her home and sprinted towards the police cruisers with her youngest child in her arms! In her frenetic state she figured the youngest of her sons was the most helpless, and since she could only take one with her, she grabbed him and fled to the officers.

Ethan Nickerson / Facebook

No Time To Waste

The first officer Cheryl reached was Lt. Ludden, and he immediately knew by her demeanor that the situation the unit was about to enter was dire. He did his best to calm the mother and ask for details. Once he learned there were still two children inside along with an armed man on drugs, he took immediate action. There was absolutely no time to spare.

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Talking Down Ethan

Fortunately, Lt. Ludden had been in similar situations many times throughout his career. He knew how to deal with a situation that required a meticulous conversation to de-escalate a potentially lethal outcome. Cheryl stood by with a horrified look on her face as police spoke with Ethan. Then, 20 minutes later, a miracle happened.

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Best Possible Outcome

Ethan not only put down the knife he was swinging around recklessly, but he actually walked out to the police units and gave himself up. It was the best possible ending the police hoped for. Cheryl and her kids, although quite shaken by everything, were finally safe. The incredible series of events was soon picked up by the news.

Ethan Nickerson / Facebook

An Ingenious Decision

No one could ignore such an incredible story! The fact that Cheryl had the wherewithal to use a Pizza Hut app to call for help was ingenious, and let's be honest, everyone loves when a bad guy gets busted. Ethan's face was plastered all over the news, and Cindy Hamilton of Pizza Hut was recognized for her quick thinking.

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Pizza Hut Heyday

If you were a child of the ‘90s and early 2000s, you grew up during the Pizza Hut surge. You could find one of their red-roofed fast-food franchises practically anywhere. Their commercials dominated all your favorite programming, but for kids, in particular, Pizza Hut had a major draw.

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Book It! Program

Back in 1984, some marketing genius at Pizza Hut came up with the Book It! reading program, and the world was never the same. In a nutshell, it begged the question, what if we could get kids to read more by bribing them with the promise of free pizza? Naturally, that piqued kids' interests.

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Reading For Pizza

Working in conjunction with elementary classrooms around the country, Pizza Hut offered free personal pan pizzas to kids who brought in their completed Reading Award Certificates. The more books you read, the more little one-topping pizzas you'd earn. It was an instant success.

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Teacher And Parent Approved

Not only was the Book It! Program popular with kids, but teachers also liked the flexibility of setting their own reading goals for students. Parents loved the incentive that made their children more excited about reading. Most importantly, there was free pizza, the greatest thing in the world.

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Everybody Wins

Legions of families went to their local Pizza Huts to redeem their Reading Award Certificates. Kids slapped that piece of paper on the counter ready to get the pepperoni-covered fruits of their labor while their parents ordered dinner for the rest of the family. Everybody won, but particularly Pizza Hut.

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Success Puttered Out

While the Book It! program is still in effect, it’s lost its steam. No doubt there are still educators and families participating, however, they aren't enough to sustain a reliable flow of business to Pizza Hut franchises. Somewhere along the line, the chain lost its appeal.

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Pizza Hut Today

Today, walking into a Pizza Hut results in one of two experiences. Either everything feels exactly the same — with the familiar salad bar, red vinyl booths, and plump little shakers of parmesan cheese — or it’s a brand new renovated spot without much seating. In both scenarios, the childhood magic you felt scarfing down your hard-earned personal pan pizza is glaringly absent.

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Forced To Close

Pizza Hut suffered in recent years, pushing them to make the difficult decision to close 500 locations in 2019. It was a staggering blow to hundreds of employees, suddenly left without jobs. Not without warning, the decline was rooted in a problem that forced the chain to reassess its business model.

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People Don't Dine-In

Lack of dine-in business is a major problem. Up until recently, most Pizza Hut restaurants were still designed to cater to dine-in customers. The chain has overcome many business hurdles, but people no longer wanting to sit down at a restaurant to eat pizza — even pre-pandemic — was one executive's conclusion. They went to the drawing board.

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Pick-up And Delivery

Sit-down franchises like Pizza Hut needed to figure out a way to merge with the societal transition to carry-out and delivery, and they needed to do it better than their rivals. They started searching for another golden ticket level idea like they had with the Book It! program to lure people back to Pizza Hut.

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Plan For Closed Stores

While sweeping closures are never a good sign, Pizza Hut reps say there’s still a plan in store for many of the shutdown locations. The intention is to replace the old with the new, opening express storefronts in their place. That means the nostalgic interiors are due for a big change.

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Behind Competitors

Pizza Hut hasn’t kept up with their ever-changing competitors, namely Dominos. According to reporting by CNN, Dominos climbed to the top of the pizza chain restaurant empire in 2018. How did they do it? With a combination of several strategic changes.

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Dominos Strategy

In a major comeback, Dominos reinvented itself by changing pretty much everything. Their biggest obstacle? Nobody liked their pizza! So Dominos pulled a daring move. They leaned into the hate they received from customers and kicked off what CNN reporters called the “pizza turnaround.”

Getty Images /Joe Raedle / Staff

Total Rehaul

Dominos ran commercials of their employees reading negative reviews, saying things like this is the "worst pizza I've ever had.” The transparency was coupled with a rehaul of their 49-year-old recipe and changes to 85% of their menu. If that wasn’t enough to win back customers, their low prices were. Pizza Hut execs took note.

Getty Images / Joe Raedle / Staff

Going Digital

Additionally, besides better food and prices, Dominos invested in new technologies to make ordering simpler. In an age where picking up the phone and calling in orders is a dying practice, they turned to a custom digital ordering platform. That’s bad news for workers who would have waited on guests, but a major profit for the pizza chain.

Twitter / Domino's Pizza

Convenience Is King

Using a strategy that CNBC called fortressing, Dominos opened new locations in existing markets to be even closer to customers. The user-friendly nature of their digital ordering platform, the ease of adding things to your cart, and proximity have all proven that convenience might be the top priority in the pizza business.

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Bankruptcy

The struggles for Pizza Hut came to a head in 2020, when they filed for bankruptcy. Interim President Kevin Hochman told CNBC that the struggle to out strategize their competitors in the pick-up and delivery sectors was largely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though ultimately, people staying home boosted the pizza industry.

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Hope For Pizza Hut

Falling from the top of the pizza pyramid hasn't been easy for Pizza Hut. CNBC spoke to experts to see what steps the company needs to take to climb out of its slump. First, it was dealing with its large footprint of unprofitable locations. Then they’d needed to step up their digital ordering platforms.

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Change In Priorities

To beat out Domino’s, Little Caesars, and Papa John’s in the pizza wars, Pizza Hut also needs to revamp their menu with affordable and enticing items that they’re currently lacking. The priorities of consumers are changing. People want to be able to order, pay, and watch their pizza on its delivery route easily from their phones.

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Ongoing Challenge

Across the fast-food spectrum, restaurants are facing challenges as a sign of the times. While Pizza hut adapts and giants like McDonald’s and Taco Bell find new ways to lure in customers they’re up against a nemesis that can’t be defeated — generational shifts in values.

Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for Pizza Hut

Fast Food

Ironically, the cheapest generation in decades refuses to eat cheap fast food. With health food on the mind and a belly of ire towards big, global chains, Millennials have their minds made up that fast food isn't worth it.

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Suits

Millennials are creating offices with a much more casual tone and are starting to say "no" to traditional business attire. Of course, many professionals still dress to impress, but popping into Men's Warehouse for a fitting is rare.

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Traditional Gyms

Health is a big deal for Millennials, but they won't settle for basics. You're more likely to find them practicing kickboxing, yoga, or CrossFit before you see them in a Globo-Gym. Don't put it past them to do sit-ups with televisions.

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Irons

When it comes to laundry, wrinkles are unavoidable, but the rebel generation has their own way of dealing with them: anti-wrinkle fabrics solve what a quick run through the dryer does not.

Cereal

Skipping breakfast is par for the course, and indulging on sugary meal first thing in the AM doesn't exactly appeal to Millennials who do have a morning bite to eat. Milks makes 'em bloat, so the cereal is generally out.

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Land Lines

Rather than paying extra for the phone service, this generation would rather rely solely on their cellphones. Though there are many benefits to having a landline, it's not enough to squeeze into the budget.

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Beef

The world is starting to recognize that beef is not as good as it tastes: It's not an eco-friendly option and can be high in fat, making the extra cost not worth it for Millennials. Where's the beef? Still in the grocery store.

Lotto Tickets

Millennials often find themselves living from paycheck to paycheck, making every cent of the money they earn that much more valuable to them. That's why they don't have the time or money for any gambling — even cheap lotto tickets. The odds just aren't in their favor.

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Stocks and Investments

Buy! Sell! Buy! Sell! Without a lot of extra money to spare, the thought of putting a few bucks into the volatile markets can make a Millennial sick to their stomachs. Health insurance is enough of a challenge in itself; no need to complicate things with stocks.

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Hotels and Cruises

The rebel generation is more about authenticity than living fancy, which is why they opt for AirBnBs over fancy hotels. People just don't trash hotel rooms like they're David Lee Roth on tour like they used to.

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Casual Dining

Restaurant chains are seeing younger customers go to establishments with healthier foods and smaller portions, while other chains, like Hooters, struggle to capture younger audiences.

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Stilettos

The uncomfortable sacrifice we make for fashion is quickly fading away. Sneakers are dominating in sales, and Ugg boots are flying off shelves — calf muscles across the planet are resting peacefully.

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Mayonnaise

Mayo has been used lovingly to enhance flavor in food for years, but not anymore. The health-conscious Millennials refuse to rely on the condiment that has next to zero benefits, opting for alternatives like oil, seasonings, and the all-mighty avocado.

Milk

Vegan and eco-friendly movements have pushed the generation away from regular milk, which doesn't sit right in stomachs anyway. On top of that, many have found that options like almond, coconut, and oat milk are healthier and tastier. You are what you drink.

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Fabric Softener

Surprisingly enough, many Millennials don't even know fabric softener's purpose, but more comfortable clothing is making the product not as relevant anyway. Without starchy suits and ties, Millennials just save money.

Cable Subscriptions

With all those channels and still nothing to watch, Millennials opt for streaming services instead. Just wait, in a few years, they'll be bundling streaming services together until there's a new type of cable TV.

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Designer Clothes

Millennials would rather spend their hard-earned money on cheaper deals, eco-friendly options, or swapping clothes with people they know. It's the clothes that make the man after all — not the brand name.

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Napkins

If you go to a millennial's house, you'll most likely be given a paper towel. Though it may not be the classiest way to wipe you face, the paper towel is the most cost-effective. With college debt and a tough economy, napkins — both fancy and plain — get left behind.

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Welcome Home

Skyrocketing prices in real estate make sure Millennials have to sit out the whole homebuying process. Pouring your earnings into a shanty box apartment is not a smart investment, and Millennials are well aware of that — but it has to do.

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Cars (And Gas)

In urban areas, it's much more cost-effective and can be a lot less stressful to take public transportation, and Millennials are wise to the dangers of fossil fuels. They've found many cost-effective and eco-friendly ways to commute.

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