Do Hawaiians Eat Hawaiian Pizza? Plus, a Little History

Welcome to Ask the Critics, in which we answer your food, eating, and restaurant questions. Check out previous weeks' queries, and e-mail fork@villagevoice.com with your own.

Montreal Food Guy wondered:

Hi Robert and Sarah,

This may seem like an odd question, but here it goes: Do people in Hawaii like Hawaiian Pizza?

I personally find it a little disturbing and insulting to all pizzas. If you exclude the fact that a tomato is a fruit, then there should be no other fruit that should be considered a topping on a pizza.

Your thoughts.

I have to agree with Montreal Food Man on the disturbing nature of those pies topped with tomato sauce, cheese, ham, and pineapple, but I didn't feel quite qualified to hold forth on the eating preferences of a faraway state.

So I called up Nadine Kam, the features editor and restaurant reviewer at the Honolulu Star Bulletin. Hoping she wouldn't hang up on me, I asked her if Hawaii has Hawaiian pizza, and if so, if Hawaiians particularly like it. She told me this.

...Just about every chain restaurant here has a version of the pineapple-topped pizza, popular with a small segment of the population who like sweet-sour flavors. They love it, but they're an exception.

Tastes in pizza here are pretty conservative, even in the post-CPK [California Pizza Kitchen] era. That may seem a little odd considering we'd eat some of these ingredients, like Thai chicken or Japanese eggplant, in various ethnic restaurants. We just like them more with rice than on a pizza crust.

So the go-to pizzas are usually a basic pepperoni-sausage combination pizza, or a vegetarian pizza. No one is averse to a teriyaki or barbecue chicken pizza, for instance. We love barbecue chicken. But anecdotally, whenever we have office pizza parties, the Italians and combinations go first, followed by the vegetarians, and the chicken pizza is left standing.

So there you have it: Hawaiians don't like Hawaiian pizza any more than the rest of us, and in fact they skew conservative when it comes to pie toppings.

But then I started to wonder where Hawaiian pizza came from in the first place. Wikipedia, that font of reliable information, says that in 1960, Sam Panopoulos, owner of the Family Circle Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, was the first to make it.

 

Chatham is a municipality of just over 100,000 people in southern Ontario, about 50 miles northeast of Detroit.

I called the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, but no one there had heard this Hawaiian pizza origin story, although they did give me the phone number of the guy who owns the space where Family Circle used to be. Unfortunately, he does not answer his phone.

Over at the Chatham Daily News, Ellwood Shreve, a reporter who covers human interest stories about the people of the area, was positively tickled. "I was born and raised in Chatham, and I almost forgot about that place," he said of the Family Circle Restaurant. But he had not heard the invention claim.

"Try Bob Boughner," he said. "If anyone will know, it's him. He started here around 1960."

Boughner said he remembered the restaurant and the guy, but that he didn't recall the Hawaiian pizza connection.

But Boughner is not one to let a story go cold. He called a few other Panopoulos listings in the phone book, and eventually tracked down Sam himself, now retired and living in London, Ontario, a nearby city. It turns out that Wikipedia nearly got the facts right: Panopoulos does claim he was the first to come up with Hawaiian pizza. But it was at an earlier place, called the Satellite Restaurant. Today, Boughner wrote a story about the creation of the pizza for the Chatham Daily News.

"Chatham-Kent can claim many firsts -- the latest is the creation of Hawaiian pizza.

The originator, 76-year-old Sam Panopoulos of London, recalls coming up with the dish in 1962 when he opened the Satellite Restaurant on King Street in downtown Chatham.

'No one made pizza in Chatham prior to that,'' he said, in a telephone interview Friday. "We would drive to Windsor to order pizza.'"

And later:

Sarah DiGregorio, a staff writer with the Village Voice, a newspaper in New York, called The Chatham Daily News this week as part of her investigation into the origin of Hawaiian pizza.

She said an article on Wikipedia credits Panopoulos with inventing the idea of putting pineapples and ham on pizza in 1960. "I'm wondering if this is true,'' she said.

"It's true that I came up with the idea for Hawaiian pizza but it was at the Satellite and not at the Family Circle,'' said Panopoulos.

And there you have it, folks. This concludes our Hawaiian pizza coverage for the day.


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