Whether or not Americans ever agree on which variety of pizza crust is best, thick or thin, round or square, hand-thrown or rolled, one thing is sure: America’s long-term love affair with pizza remains as saucy as ever with no breakup in sight. In fact, the National Restaurant Association estimates a whopping 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year representing $32+ billion annually in revenue. Now thatsa-lotta-pizza!
Determining what ignited America’s love affair with pizza is not an exact science, but it’s likely the affair commenced much like any love affair – with the courtship. Beginning in the 1940s, America’s taste for pizza was ushered in as World War II servicemen stationed in Italy were returning home with cravings for pizza (a tasty replacement for their overseas rations). Upon return of American servicemen to the United States, pizza take-out was available through neighborhood Italian bakeries. Savvy pizza makers wooed American families to their shops with pleasing and aromatic scents of herbs, garlic, and fresh-baked breads. The tantalizing, wholesome aromas permeated neighborhood streets and lured Americans to pizzerias by way of their senses.
Once enticed to visit the shop, Americans were further romanced by handsome shopkeepers stationed strategically behind plate glass windows through which they entertained Americans by touting their impressive pizza-tossing skills. Families congregated outside to watch in amazement as elastic, saucer-shaped dough was hurled high into the air, turbulently spinning, landing atop the artisan’s fist, still spinning wildly, and tossed again until perfectly stretched dough was formed, topped with tangy sauce, spices, and cheese and shuttled by paddle into the oven.
Further enamoring middle-class Americans to the pizza aficionados were the shop owners’ warm manners, strong family values, and the love and affection woven into their treasured family recipes. Americans admired the reverence and respect shop owners showered on their Mamas and Papas as heads of the household and family business. For those reasons, Americans embraced the culture and the tomato pies produced by it, and their love affair with pizza began.
By the 1950s, America’s full-fledged love affair with pizza traversed into the business arena and major players in commercialized pizzerias appeared on the scene. By the 1950s and 1960s, pizza parlors, bowling alleys, and drive-in movie theaters offered relatively inexpensive entertainment and became popular hangouts for courting teenagers. Naturally, pizza proved lucrative to local businesses and was added to menus at local teenage hangouts. As America’s youth were dating and falling in love with each other, they further solidified their love affair with pizza and fast food. Pizza had become so popular by the mid-1960s that a major pizza chain opened and began offering home delivery while another major player began selling pizza franchises across America.
Early in the 1970s, more and more American women were joining the workforce to help with tight family budgets. As a consequence, American families had less time to prepare meals and the pizza industry once again wooed American families, this time with two-for-one pizza deals and enticing television commercials inviting families to local pizza parlors for a free soft drink or toy with a family purchase. Television commercials and radio jingles promoting local pizzerias gained popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and by the 1990s, pizza stations were introduced in major department stores.
Americans, admittedly, through the years have become pizza passionate with singers crooning about it, jingles being written about it, foodies obsessing over it, and critics nitpicking at it. Marketers are marketing it, corporations are packaging it, retailers are stocking it, and (of course) the IRS is taxing it. As middle-class Americans continue gathering at pizza parties and parlors, unexpected participants are joining the throes of America’s pizza passion. Teachers are motivating with it, employers are rewarding with it, non‑profits are fundraising with it, and culinary schools are wood-firing it. Wolfgang Puck serves caviar on it, Paula Deen whips up banana splits on it, and Martha Stewart designs tartlets with it. The pizza-mania never ends!
America’s love affair with pizza is further aroused by pizza’s scintillating versatility and endless possibilities for toppings, dough varieties, shapes, and sizes. Americans are tickled pink with pizza whether hot or cold, served as an appetizer, main dish, or dessert. While pizza is not fancy and considered casual fare and finger food at best (no utensils required) American ingenuity puts pizza on the best dressed list as a most delectable gourmet creation. Every star product has a knockoff version and pizza is no exception with spinoff delicacies such as calzone, stromboli, panzerotti, deep-dish pizza, and stuffed pizza,
Speaking of stuffed pizza, pizzerias are not only stuffing Americans full with their love of pizza, they are stuffing their pizzas full of love with American delights. Stuffed pizza varieties might contain any combination of ingredients. Favorites include spinach, sausage, and feta cheese; mushrooms, zucchini, sweet bell peppers, garlic, and mozzarella cheese; and cream cheese, crabmeat, mozzarella cheese, green onions, and garlic. Southerners add their own fiery brand of love by offering jambalaya pizza with spicy, homemade sauce, andouille sausage, seasoned shrimp, and mozzarella cheese. The list goes on and on.
Yet the love of pizza American-style goes deeper than the deepest-dish tomato pie. For a match made in heaven, Americans are introducing dessert pizzas into their transgenerational love affair with pizza. New dessert varieties are designed with cookie crusts topped with smooth, creamy chocolate sauces and sprinkled with candy-coated chocolate pieces, nuts, and coconut. For the fruit-loving pizza-lovers, there are pizza varieties based with cookie crusts and topped with cream cheese, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and fruit syrups.
As a result of America’s love affair with pizza, today (data from the National Restaurant Association) more than 61,000 pizza parlors across the United States are fanning the fires and keeping the flame alive that was kindled in American hearts and palattes over 6 decades ago. Pizzerias reaffirm their commitment to America’s love affair with pizza as they renew not only their vows but their pizza offerings in order to continually satisfy ravenous Americans who consume 350 slices of pizza each second (statistics reported by Homemade-Pizza-Made-Easy.com). Now, that’s amore!