Enquirer photo/Rebekah Yancey Michael Cavanaugh recently retired from Pizza Hut. He worked as the manager of the Hartselle restaurant for 34 years.

Local legend retires after 34 years at Hartselle Pizza Hut

Michael Cavanaugh knows pizza. He also knows Hartselle.

After more than three decades of dedicated service, Cavanaugh is hanging up his apron as the manager of the local Pizza Hut — a decision he calls bittersweet.

Cavanaugh has become a fixture in the community, hosting countless celebrations — from family dinners to birthday parties to homecoming and prom gatherings — and becoming a familiar face for patrons young and old.

Cavanaugh’s last day at Pizza Hut was Feb. 15.

Billy McAbee dines at the establishment every day. His son, Corbett McAbee, is a big fan of the personal pan pizzas.

“My son enjoys a personal pan cheese pizza, light on the sauce, every day, 365 days a year. He worships the ground Mike Cavanaugh walks on,” Billy McAbee said.

“On Thanksgiving Day, I got a text (from Cavanaugh) that said ‘Hey, your pizza is in your mailbox. Get it before it gets cold,’” Billy McAbee said. “He opened his business when it was closed — I know it takes 30 minutes to heat up the oven — to make one pizza. How many people do you know who would do that?”

Cavanaugh frequently supplied pizza to the Hartselle Police Department and other organizations.

Tania Burgess, with Hartselle Police, said he has been a great supporter of first responders in Hartselle through the years.

“Michael Cavanaugh has been delivering delicious pizzas to the community for as long as I can remember,” Burgess said. “I remember several years ago, all of Hartselle had shut down due to snow-covered roads, but wouldn’t you know it, Michael somehow made his way to ‘The Hut’ and was turning out pizzas for those who could make it to the drive-thru window. I will always be grateful for Michael’s years of dedication and service to our community. He will be missed more than he’ll ever know.”

Cavanaugh’s wife Michelle invited the community to the restaurant to say goodbye during his final week on the job.

“You wouldn’t believe the response,” Michael Cavanaugh said. “People coming in that last week, talking to me, wishing me well, telling me how I had impacted their lives — some of them who were not in the greatest situation when they worked here and now, they’re straight and on the right path.”

Cavanaugh described one such former employee who came by.

“He said, ‘It took me years to come face you because I was not nice to you back then. The situation I was in, I probably would not have got out of it if it hadn’t been for you. I heard you were leaving, and I have needed to say this for a long time,’” Cavanaugh recalled. “That really had an impact on me.

“You go through life sometimes wondering if you’re really making a difference or doing any good for people, and then something like that happens.”

Cavanaugh has big plans for retirement. Cruises to St. Barts and Alaska have been booked for this year and next, but the 63-year-old said he mainly wants to do the things he hasn’t had time to do while busy working 80-hour weeks.

Cavanaugh said the most important thing he received from his three decades at Pizza Hut is the friendships.

“I’ve formed a lot of long-term relationships through the years,” he said. “Some of my customers who came through the drive-thru as children in car seats now bring their own children. That to me is exciting to have relationships with the good people in the community that have turned into generations of friends.”

“I still eat pizza after all these years,” Cavanaugh added, “just not as much. I lost 4 pounds my first week of retirement.”

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