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How Did Pizza Become Popular in the United States? 24 July, 2020   

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when pizza didn’t exist, hadn’t come to the U.S. yet, or couldn’t be delivered to our door. Food for thought, huh?


Let’s explore where and when the first pizza was made, what the word pizza means, when the first pizza delivery happened, and how it made its way in becoming America’s favorite food.


History of Pizza


Although pizza-like dishes (flatbreads with oils and spices, now known as focaccia) were made in the Mediterranean long before, modern pizza’s origins date back to Naples, Italy, in the 17th century. Since it was cheap and easy to prepare by pizza makers called “pizzaioli,” it quickly became the food of choice for the working-class population. 


Where Did the First Pizza Delivery Happen?


Although it gained local popularity among Naples peoples and visitors, pizza didn’t spread among other regions for almost a century. This lasted until the Italian King and Queen paid a visit to Naples, and having grown tired of fancy meals, they ordered and got served with (you guessed it) pizza


So, the typical Neapolitan pizza with tomato, cheese, and basil we know and love today was first made in 1889 in honor of Queen Margherita, from whom it got its name from. Fun fact: the chosen ingredients were meant to mimic the colors of the Italian flag.


This occurrence happened to note the first-ever pizza delivery, too. Raffaele Esposito, the pizzaiolo, delivered the pizzas himself to the palace the King and Queen were staying in. 


So, How Old is Pizza?


If you’ve ever wondered how old pizza is, now you know that it has blessed our tables (okay, Italians’ tables) for almost 200 years now.


The etymology of the Word ‘Pizza’: Is Pizza a Pie?


Yes, pizza IS a pie… kind of. The word ‘pizza’ in Italian literally means pie; however, the word has its origins in the Greek word ‘pitta,’ meaning “thick, flat bread.” 


History of Pizza in the U.S.


Pizza made its way to the U.S. along with the 4 million Italian immigrants who came here between 1880 and 1920. As such, they brought their tradition here, first making pizzas in their homes and selling them in unlicensed venues before the rise of pizzerias.


The First Pizzeria in the U.S.


A version of pizza known as Tomato Pie was found in Italian bakeries in Philadelphia, in the early 1900s. What made them distinctive of the actual pizza is that they were arranged in reverse order (cheese, then toppings, then sauce). However, the first licensed pizzeria was opened in New York, in 1905.


Gennaro Lombardi, an Italian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1897, started making pizza for a bakery/grocery store in New York City when he was just 14. In 1905, the owner offered to sell the store to him, and young Gennaro jumped at the opportunity. 


Knowing the pizza he made was a best-seller among other pastries, he opened his own American pizza business and got licensed as the first pizzeria in the U.S. under the name Lombardi’s. Still located in the same place (Spring Street, in a neighborhood now known as Little Italy), the restaurant is still in business for everyone to enjoy the ’ O.G.’ pizza from the ‘O.G.’ pizzeria.


In fact, there are conflicting stories about which one was the first-ever pizzeria. Legend has it the first Neapolitan pizza was actually introduced to America in 1903, in Boston, by Giovanni and Gennero Bruno. As for tomato pies, the first established pizzeria selling them (and second oldest pizza place in America) was Joe’s Tomato Pies opened in 1910.


Pizza by the Slice


Pizza can be Italian, but the pizza slice is something the United States is the birthplace of. With American pizzerias becoming extremely popular within the working-class, the slice soon saw its day. With the intention of making pizza more accessible for busy workers, pizza started being sold by the slice, making it even easier to be eaten in a single serving rather than buying an entire pizza pie.


Independent Pizzerias


Independent pizzerias are known to have higher quality ingredients, oftentimes locally grown, and also the adaptability for pizza customizations by the customer. The list goes on… independent pizzerias are simply able to offer benefits that larger pizza chains can never compete with. 


Currently, 41% of what Americans spend on pizza is spent on independent also and small chain pizzerias ($18.78 billion). And the main factor for big store chains currently having a slightly bigger piece of the pie in the pizza industry is the use of technology. All major chains seem to have their own online ordering platforms and tracking technologies, and 43% of customers actually found them appealing. However, with the use of third-party apps, mom and pop shops are getting on board with the apps. 


Americans’ Love for Pizza in Numbers


I think we got it clear by now that Americans love pizza. Let’s see just HOW much in some statistics: 


Number of U.S. pizzerias


Most recent studies have shown that there are over 76,993 pizzerias, with over 9000 of them being only in New York. 


Pizza consumers


Once a pizza lover, monthly a pizza lover. 83% of pizza consumers have it at least once a month, while 13% eat it every day.


Pizza amount


Believe it or not, a single American eats 23 pounds of pizza per year.

Top pizzeria states


Unlike popular belief, New York is not home to the most pizzerias per capita across the U.S. Most stores are actually in Pennsylvania (3.63 per 10,000 people), Connecticut (3.58/10,000 people), and Rhode Island (3.56/10,000 people).


As for the least pizzerias, ironically, since they have a pizza named after them, Hawaii ‘wins’ the title. There are only about 1.18 pizza places per 10,000 people there.


There you have it, the answers behind how pizza became popular in the United States.

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