We first encountered Hawaiian pizza in a Brookline, Massachusetts pizzeria, way back in our college years. Scanning the menu, we found the concept of a cheese pizza—crust, tomato sauce and mozzarella—topped with ham and pineapple to be “fun.” We ordered a slice.
Fun it was…but we went back to our “usual,” bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and sausage. They went far better with tomato sauce and mozzarella. We don’t think we’ve had Hawaiian pizza since.
Barbecue chicken pizza, goat cheese pizza, white pizza, whole wheat crusts, and the rest of what we consider “modern” and “artisan” pizzas were decades away.
But Hawaiian pizza endured, and there is actually an International Hawaiian Pizza Day, August 20th, celebrating the pizza that originated in…Canada.
It became popular locally and eventually became a menu staple of pizzerias worldwide.
Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian, created the first Hawaiian pizza at the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1962.
He owned the restaurant with his brothers Elias and Nikitas. They offered typical American items fare like burgers and fries, bacon and eggs, grilled cheese, club sandwiches, spaghetti and meat sauce, pizza, American Chinese dishes, and more—a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, served daily.
In New York, we call this style of restaurant a Greek diner.
Some of the Chinese dishes mixed sweet and savory flavors. Inspired by the sweet-and-savory pairing, Panopoulos experimented with adding pineapple, ham, bacon, and other toppings to the pizzas.
“We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” Panopoulos told the BBC. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments” [source].
Hawaiian pizza also capitalized on the mid-century tiki trend, which popularized Polynesian-style cocktails, food and decor in North America.
By the way, the name “Hawaiian” for the pizza was not a tribute to the Hawaiian Islands, which became America’s 50th state three years earlier. Rather, it was the brand name of the can of pineapples Panopoulos used.
The Satellite Restaurant, still going strong today, proudly calls itself “Home of the Hawaiian Pizza.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a fan of the dish.
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