Canadian invented the Hawaiian pizza

Sam Panopolous displays his 1962 invention, the Hawaiian pizza. He says it was an

Sam Panopolous displays his 1962 invention, the Hawaiian pizza. He says it was an "invention by accident'' when he introduced the pizza at his Chatham restaurant called the Satellite. (Derek Ruttan, QMI Agency)

GEOFF TURNER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. - It's a question that's puzzled trailer park gourmands the world over.

Where was the Hawaiian pizza invented?

Honolulu? Maui? The Polynesian quarter of Rome?

According to Wikipedia, the origins of the pie are closer to the shores of Lake Erie than the Mediterranean or the Pacific.

The online encyclopedia says Sam Panopoulos, 76, of London was the first to make the unlikely culinary fusion, at his Chatham restaurant way back in 1962.

Now happily retired in London after 50 years in the restaurant business, Panopolous was unequivocal on the question of whether he might have invented the pie.

"What do you mean I might have? -- I did," is his terse reply.

Panopolous came to Canada from Greece in 1954, settling first in Sudbury before making his way to Chatham in 1960. He and his brother Nick wanted to start a restaurant, but he knew he needed something different to stand out from the crowd.

At the time, pizza was still a novelty in Canada, he said. For a long time, you couldn't even get it in comparatively cosmopolitan Windsor, let alone sleepy Chatham, circa 1962. But Sam said he was hearing all about the saucy, cheesy delight from Windsor friends who were making the trip over to Detroit to get their hands on a pie. It sounded like just the novelty he was looking for.

Panopoulos said there wasn't any Chinese food in Chatham at the time either, so he hired a Chinese chef to handle the Asian cuisine and started making pizzas for a curious clientele at the restaurant he called the Satellite.

It was a steep learning curve at first, Panopoulos said. "We'd never seen a pizza. We didn't know what we were doing."

You couldn't even get a proper pizza box back then. Panopoulos said he would get sheets of packing cardboard from the furniture warehouse next door and cut it into circles.

With no template to work from, Panopoulos started to experiment with toppings and that's when he hit on an original.

His invention, known as a "Polynesian perversion" by some pie purists, normally consists of back bacon or ham topped with chunks of pineapple. Panopoulos said his creation was a hit almost immediately.

"I said 'Let's put some pineapple on it' and all of a sudden we're doing big business."

Whether he knew it or not, Panopolous' pizza tapped into the culinary zeitgeist. The tiki trend, which popularized all things Polynesian -- especially cocktails carved from coconuts and pineapples -- was still going strong when Panopoulos first plopped fruit on his pizza.

Still, he said the mix of flavours was pretty radical at the time.

"In those days people didn't mix the tastes like sweet and sour, except for Chinese food."

Panopoulos sold hundreds, maybe thousands of Hawaiian pizzas over the 20 years he owned the Satellite but he didn't plan on going global.

"It was an invention by accident," he said with a laugh.

Back in Chatham, the Satellite is still going strong -- under different owners -- and server Julia Sambo confirms the Hawaiian is still on the menu.

A search of pizza menus around Canada and the U.S. shows that from its humble origins in Southwestern Ontario, the pie has made its way to every corner of the continent.

In a way, the Hawaiian pizza has finally made its way home. Round table pizza in Honolulu offers a pie called the Maui Zaui with -- you guessed it -- ham, bacon and pineapple.

But a joint called Buck's Pizza in Mobile, Ala., gets a little closer to the true geographic origins of the Hawaiian pizza. It promises "a taste of the islands, with generous portions of Canadian bacon."

geoff.turner@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/GeoffatLFPress


Videos

Photos