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The Greek Inventor of Hawaiian Pizza: Sam Panopoulos

Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos pictured at one of his restaurants in the late 1960s
Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos pictured at one of his restaurants in the late 1960s

Some love it, others hate it. But very few people know that the man who took the brave decision back in the 1960’s to add pineapple to a pizza was a Greek immigrant to Canada.

The man responsible for this gastronomic innovation was none other than Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos. He arrived in Canada by boat in 1954 with little more than a passion for his departed Greek homeland and a belief that boundless opportunity awaited in his adopted country.

By the early 1960s, the man born in August, 1934 in the village of Vourvoura in the Peloponnese, had built a small chain of restaurants in Ontario with his two brothers. Offering burgers, and then pizza, which was becoming increasingly popular at the time, the brothers saw their businesses become more successful each year.

The creation of the famous Hawaiian pizza

Their most famous creation would result from an experiment. Out of curiosity, one day Panopoulos decided to put canned pineapple on a pizza just to find out what it would taste like. “We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” Sam Panopoulos told the BBC in a 2017 interview he gave shortly before he died.

He and his brothers liked the contrast between the sweetness of the pineapple and the savory flavor of the ham. “We tried it first, [then] passed it to some customers. And a couple of months later, they’re going crazy about it, so we put it on the menu,” Panopoulos recounted.

Hawaiian Pizza
Hawaiian Pizza. Credit: skibler/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

They dubbed the pizza “The Hawaiian” after the brand of canned pineapple they used. At the time, pizza toppings were usually limited to mushrooms, bacon and pepperoni, Panopoulos said.

A great legacy

The controversial foodstuff made an appearance on the international stage in February 2017, when Iceland’s President Guðni Jóhannesson declared that pineapple should be banned from pizza. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted in return: “I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation.”

Panopoulos sold his restaurant, called “Satellite,” in the mid-1970s, later opening the “Family Circle” restaurant in London, Ontario. He finally retired at the age of 73 in 2007, and when not defending pineapple pizza to the world’s media, he spent the rest of his days as a doting “papou” (grandfather).

Sam Panopoulos passed away on June 8, 2017 at the age of 83. It was never his intention to cause such turmoil in the culinary world, nor was he bothered by the never-ending debate about the appropriateness of fruit-topped pizza.

His only intention was to break the pattern of using ordinary ingredients on pizza, and to open up a world of new flavors. And that he did, while making the very most of the great opportunities afforded him by the country that he and his brothers came to in their twenties.

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