History of “Windsor Style’” Pizza
How did Windsor Ontario, in the most southern region of Canada, the city of Roses and automotive plants become one of the best places to eat Pizza in North America?
Those automotive plants may have something to do with it. Windsor has been known as the “automotive capital of Canada”. Windsor is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in North America with a long history of welcoming new immigrants. When Windsor became known for its good paying jobs with the three largest auto manufacturers, immigrants came to work in the those auto plants – Italians and Greeks especially came in the hundreds and brought their food and culture with them. It is the legacy of these immigrants that have brought us many styles of some of the best pizza in the world.
So it’s just an Italian style pizza then? Well, no. Windsor Pizza is unique to this region and not a copy of the original. It’s that medium thin crust, uniquely shredded pepperoni, and canned, not fresh, mushrooms, the history says. If you want to know who invented the first “Windsor Pizza”, it may not be that easy to pinpoint. According to Windsor’s Community Museum there is great controversy over who Windsor’s first Pizza maker was or who invented Windsor Style pizza. The main contenders for Windsor first pizza usually come down to 3 places: Sam’s Pizzeria; Volcano Pizzeria; or Mario’s Restaurant.
Sam’s Pizzeria opened in 1947 but not under that name. Pizza wasn’t added to their name in the Windsor City Directories until 1960. However, Volcano Pizzeria is listed in the 1957 directory, making it the first time pizza is mentioned in the directories for Windsor. Mario’s Good Food opened in 1940; they have a long reputation in Windsor’s pizza history, but again no direct mention of pizza in the directories for them until 1964.
Volcano Pizzeria is generally understood to be the first Windsor pizza outlet. Frank Gualtieri, who died in 1989, was one of the owners of Volcano. The other partner was Gino Manza, his cousin. When Windsor based Volcano Pizzeria opened in 1957 it was the first Italian restaurant in the Downtown Windsor area (located at 157 Wyandotte Street East). It quickly grew in popularity just by word of mouth, going from a 60 seat restaurant to 400 seats. After almost 30 years in business, Gino Manza retired in 1986 and sold the business to the Downtown Mission Centre.
Sam’s Pizzeria and Cantina has been proudly serving Windsor since 1946. According to neighbourhood sources who grew up in that west end neighbourhood, the original owner, obviously named Sam, was a good man who poured his heart and soul into his pizzeria and often donated pizzas to school fund raisers.
All three have claimed to be Windsor’s first pizza place. However, in all fairness, Capri Pizzeria is also listed in the 1960 Windsor City Directory. There is no proof that Sam sold pizza before 1960, and it’s impossible to say when they started serving it. Pizza really didn’t start making its way to Canada until the late 1950s.
What is the “Windsor Style” Pizza?
Shredded pepperoni is what makes a true Windsor pizza different from other pies. When you bite into a round pepperoni, sometimes you get the whole pepperoni but then the next mouthful could be all cheese. The idea is that shredding means every bite of Windsor pizza should have the taste of pepperoni. Some local pizza shops trace their recipe to Volcano Pizzeria.
According to Arcata Pizzeria owner Bob Abumeeiz, sauce counts for 50 to 60 per cent of the taste on a pizza. “It’s a blend of spices,” that pizzerias have tweaked to make their own. “It’s got a lot of oregano. It’s got a lot of this, a lot of that. Nobody wants to tell you what’s in the recipe.” Many pizzerias depend on the Windsor-made Galati Cheese Company Ltd. mozzarella and it isn’t true Windsor pizza without it. It’s sauce, Galati cheese and then the toppings. Abumeeiz said the Windsor crust is on the thin side. Original Italian crusts were thick on the outside and thin on the inside of the pie, he said. “We’re in between. We’re not like New York. We’re not like Toronto. We’re not like Chicago.”
Other unique attribute of Windsor Style Pizza is that our pizzerias cook pizzas on corn meal on stone deck ovens. Antonino’s Joe Ciaravino said that’s what makes the crust crispy. A thin edge means more pizza and more room for toppings, he said. “Even though the entire market and industry has shifted toward fresh mushroom, the flavour profile of a classic Windsor-style pizza calls for canned mushrooms,” Ciaravino said of canned mushrooms that make the pizza less soggy.
Canadian Pizza Mag has named Dean Litster of Armando’s Pizza their 2018 Chef of the Year. He credits his unique creation – Windsor-style deep dish. Armando’s Pizza previously had competitive pizza success in 2014 when they placed third at the 30th annual International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. Local pizza makers said they put Windsor on the map with a third place win in Las Vegas for the best pizza in the world. Armando’s regular everyday pizza, with shredded pepperoni and canned mushrooms, shocked the judges at the competition, Litster said. “Windsor is now part of the pizza map,” said corporate pizza chef Dean Litster. “They’ll remember us.”
Windsor Star Judges agree Windsor has some world-class pizza. Updated: March 30, 2014
Windsor star Windsor pizza maker wins Canadian Pizza Summit title. Dalson Chen. Updated: October 17, 2018
What makes Windsor pizza Windsor pizza? Sharon Hill, Windsor Star. Updated: December 29, 2017
Knead to know: “Windsor pizza” is a thing, and it’s delicious.
If canned mushrooms and shredded pepperoni are wrong, Windsorites don’t want to be right. Sarah B. Hood August 10, 2017 TVO.org
Volcano Pizzeria: A look into one of Windsor’s most famous pizza palaces. Jonathan Pinto. CBC News · Posted: Jun 10, 2016 1:39 PM ET | Last Updated: June 10, 2016
Cheese, Please: How Did Pizza Become One of Windsor, Ontario’s Hottest Exports? August 19th, 2015 Belt Magazine
The History of Pizza in Windsor Ontario. Posted on May 25, 2013 by Eric Bonnici wrote in Restaurant News.
Impronte: Italian Imprints in Windsor, 2009. Windsor’s Community Museum
Walkerville Publishing. Pgs. 341
The 1960 Windsor City Directory. Acme Windsor Directory Co. Ltd, 1960, pgs. 38,39
The 1957 Windsor City Directory. Acme Windsor Directory Co. Ltd, 1957, pg. 39.
The 1964 Windsor City Directory. Acme Windsor Directory Co. Ltd, 1964, pg.25
C. Capacchione, Windsor’s Community Museum, personal communication, January 2019.
Special thanks to Windsor’s Community Museum for consultation.
Dedicated to the all the great pizza makers in Windsor, past and present.