Sam Panapoulos, inventor of Hawaiian pizza, dies aged 83

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 10:00pm

The man credited with inventing the Hawaiian pizza, triggering endless debate around the world about the legitimacy of pineapple on the Italian staple, has died aged 83.

Sam Panopoulos emigrated from Greece to Canada in 1954 at the age of 20 and ran several restaurants in Ontario with his two brothers.

We just put it on, just for the fun of it
Sam Panopoulos

One was in Chatham, about 290km from Toronto. It served typical American fare such as burgers and fries as well as Chinese dishes, and in the early 1960s Panopoulos decided to start offering pizzas, which had become popular in the US.

His most famous creation would result from an experiment: one day Panopoulos decided to put tinned pineapple on a pizza to find out how it would taste.

“We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste,” he told the BBC earlier this year. “We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments.”

He and his brothers liked the contrast between the sweetness of the pineapple and the savoury flavour of the ham.

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“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.”

It was called the Hawaiian after the brand of tinned pineapple used. At the time pizza toppings were usually limited to mushrooms, bacon and pepperoni, Panopoulos said.

The question of whether pineapple is desirable – or should even be allowed – on a pizza erupted once more in February when the president of Iceland told high school students in a Q&A that he was “fundamentally opposed” to the idea .

A week later Guoni Johannesson clarified his views on the subject in a Facebook post: I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. I am glad that I do not hold such power. Presidents should not have unlimited power. I would not want to hold this position if I could pass laws forbidding that which I don’t like. I would not want to live in such a country. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Even the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, responded to a question on the subject on Twitter:

Inevitably, Panopoulos was also asked about Johannesson’s comments: “The guy is crazy. He doesn’t grow a lot of pineapples up there. He has a lot of fish – so he says put fish on it.”

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The restauranteur sold the Satellite, where the Hawaiian was first created, in 1980 and had been living in London, Ontario, when he died suddenly on Thursday.

In his obituary his family described Panopoulos 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.”

His funeral will be held on Monday in London. It is not known whether Hawaiian pizza will be served at the wake.