There’s something about the Hawaiian Pizza that captures everyone’s attention. Some swear by it, others abhor and denounce it as an abomination to the entire pizza ecosystem, but no one can truly ignore it. So, what is it about the Hawaiian Pizza that either gets someone’s goat or catapults the diner to cloud nine?
The tale traces back to one fine evening in 1962, when culinary enthusiast and restaurateur Sam Panopoulos took out some canned pineapple and tossed it artfully onto the top of a ham pizza. Panopoulos liked it so much that he started advertising it in his restaurants. Amazingly, the weird combination of ham and pineapple appealed to many because of its sweet and sour contrast. The rest, as we know, is history.
Sam Panopoulos’ life is in no way less interesting that his invention itself. Having emigrated from his country of birth, Greece, to Canada in 1954, he had his first brush with pizza in Naples, Italy while en route to Canada. Naples has always been seen as the birthplace of pizza, where the oh-so-tasty-yet-so-humble-pie made its first appearance in 1889 as the classic Margherita pizza, baked in honour of the reigning monarchs of the country.
Despite being unaware of the history of this delicacy, it left a lasting impact on him. On his arrival in Canada, the jovial Greek settled down in Chatham, a town barely an hour’s drive away from Michigan in the United States. True to his culinary nature, he set up his first restaurant, the Satellite, which was moderately successful at serving typically American food consisting of fries and burgers.
When pizza came to Windsor, Canada, Panopoulos was one of the first restaurateurs to try it out. In his own words, however, “the pizza in Canada in those days was primitive” – It consisted of only pre-made dough, some cheese and a topping of canned mushrooms, bacon or pepperoni cooked on small apartment ovens.
Although the Satellite served primarily American fare, Panopoulos was always trying to r diversify the cuisines he offered. It is said he hired an Asian chef in the 1960s to introduce American Chinese food at his restaurant. Pizza crept in, not long after.
After a lot of experimentation with pizza (Panopoulos had come up with something he called the Spanish pizza, consisting of a biscuit dough mix containing a baked mixture of sausages and yellow rice), came the moment of creation of the Hawaiian Pizza. Interestingly enough, Panopoulos himself christened the pizza. When quizzed about it, he explained that Hawaii had only just become a recent addition to the United States, just like pineapple to the pizza world. Veterans returning after World War II would rave about an island paradise with fresh fruits, pretty women and fruity cocktails – the entire Tiki Culture. Pineapples, which were mostly imported from Hawaii, became a popular household item across Canada, and so the name of the Hawaiian Pizza, a Canadian pizza invented by a Greek restaurateur, finally began to make sense.
Panopoulos continued owning restaurants, though he sold the Satellite in 1980, and soon became the pillar of the community, well respected by everyone who came in contact with him. He passed away earlier this year, in June 2017, leaving behind an unquestionable, albeit hotly debated legacy.
As the current Canadian Prime Minister eloquently stated on Twitter,” I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation. #TeamPineapple @Canada.”