Detroit’s cars are great. No doubt. You’ll find them from California to New York and everywhere in between.
But the Motor City’s tastiest export may be its trademarked square – rectangular, actually – pizza from Detroit Style Pizza Company.
That’s according to Corie Brown, a blogger on Zester Daily, an online destination for food, wine and travel enthusiasts seeking out what’s delicious and new in the world.
Brown, who grew up in suburban Detroit, knows her pizza. She also knows that where she hails from, its best when the pies are square.
But then she moved to California and went into a sort of square-pizza withdrawal and found it odd that she could only find round varieties.
She had her pizza epiphany in Texas, of all places, when she and her husband spied a “Via 313” (that’s a Detroit area code) serving “Detroit-style pizza” at a bar in Austin. She discovered it again in San Francisco.
In her blog, Brown shares the origin of pizza Detroit’s way, tracing it back to 1946 when August “Gus” Guerra used a Sicilian recipe to create the square pizza at his Detroit tavern, Buddy’s Rendezvous. Soldiers had developed a taste for the zesty dish and Guerra wanted to accommodate them.
But there was a problem.
He didn’t have the right pans.
So, demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit that helped build Detroit’s auto industry, he improvised and used the same heavy steel trays used by automakers.
He couldn’t keep a lid on the secret long, and soon a regional tradition was born. Buddy’s Restaurant Pizzeria has 11 restaurants in the Detroit area – in Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Dearborn, Detroit, Farmington Hills (where Buddy’s corporate office is located), Grosse Pointe, Livonia, Royal Oak, Shelby Township and Warren – and is still serving up the original square pizza.
One of the competing pizzerias was Cloverleaf.
Fast forward six decades to the 2012 International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. The Pizza Maker of the Year Award went to Shawn Randazzo, who with his mother and business partner, Linda Michaels, had been operating a Cloverleaf franchise for 16 years in three southeast Michigan locations.
Shawn Randazzo entered his first pizza-making competition in 2009, the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, OH. There were 70 competitors, but he was the only one making square pizza with cheese to the edge of the pan. It won the top prize, and that was enough to convince him that the world was missing out on one of the world’s great regional pizzas.
More people will have the chance to experience it thanks to his company’s Authentic Detroit Style Pizza Maker Program, which helps entrepreneurs across the country introduce customers to the regional favorite.
Nine pizza makers have completed the program, including graduates opening pizzerias in Virginia, Kentucky and Maine. Randazzo has consulted with dozens of others, both in the U.S. and abroad.
He doesn’t expect Detroit-style pizza to remain a secret for long.
“I believe at the rate it’s been going,” Randazzo told Brown for the Zester Daily blog, “Detroit-style pizza will become just as popular as New York and Chicago styles.”