Canadian inventor of the Hawaiian pizza dies, leaving behind a fruity and cheesy legacy that divides the world

The inventor of the Hawaiian pizza has died, leaving behind a meaty, cheesy and fruity legacy that continues to divide pizza lovers around the world. 

Sam Panopoulos, a Greek man who immigrated to Canada in his twenties, had the daring idea to put pineapple on top of a pizza in 1962 while running a restaurant with his brothers. 

“We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” said Mr Panopoulos, who was 83 when he died on Thursday. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments.”

More than half a century later, the debate continues as to whether Mr Panopoulos’ invention was a work of culinary genius or a revolting bit of vandalism on an otherwise good pizza.  

Mr Panopoulos invented the Hawaiian Pizza in 1962

 Caters News Agency

The president of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, reignited the argument in February when he said he would ban pineapple on pizza if he had the constitutional authority to do so. 

Facing uproar among his own citizens and others, Mr Jóhannesson later clarified: “I like pineapples, just not on pizza” and recommended people try topping their pizza with fish. 

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, rushed to defend the honour of the Hawaiian pizza and gave a nod to Mr Panopoulos, its Canadian inventor. “I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation,” he said. 

Mr Panopoulos was born in Vourvoura, Greece in 1934 and moved to Canada when he was twenty along with his brothers Elias and Nikitas. 

The brothers set up several restaurants in Chatham, Ontario, not far from the US border. Pizza was still a rarity in Canada at that point but was beginning to seep into the culinary culture from the nearby American city of Detroit.

Mr Panopoulos and his brothers served Chinese food alongside pizza and liked to experiment with unusual toppings beyond the traditional pepperoni and mushroom. 

Taking some inspiration from the sweet and sour flavours in Chinese food, and also nodding to the mid-20th century tiki trend inspired by Polynesian culture, he decided to try putting pineapple chunks on top of a pizza.

He picked the name “Hawaiian” because that the was brand of canned pineapples that he used.   

“We tried it first, passed it to some customers,” he told the BBC. “And a couple of months later, they’re going crazy about it. So we put it on the menu.”

The trend spread back in Canada and then back into the US and eventually worldwide. Mr Panopoulos came to regret not patenting the idea but said he was “glad we came up with something people like to eat.”

In a death notice posted by his family, Mr Panopoulos was described as “an unforgettable personality”.

“Sam was respected by many for providing strong and dependable advice, and for his exceedingly generous nature. Fiercely loyal and protective, his candid and frank sense of humour, his booming laugh and blunt honesty will be missed by his family, friends, former employees and customers.” 

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