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Similar to pop music, football, and democracy itself, pizza is also among the long American tradition of things that started overseas before the United States imported, changed, and eventually defined the establishment. Even though the very first pizza shops did not open in America until the early 20th century, hundreds of years after the earliest Neapolitan pies, Americans are now spending $37 billion each year on pizza, which accounts for a third of the global market.
The obsession of Americans for pizza deepens as, on any given day, around 13% of Americans eat pizza, based on a report from the Department of Agriculture. One out of six men between the ages of 2 to 39 eats pizza for breakfast, lunch, or dinner each day. Why do you think Americans love pizza? If you have the same question in mind, we are here to help you.
In this post, we are giving you the history of pizza in America along with the reasons behind its popularity. Also included are the various types of American pizza and the most popular pizza toppings in the country. This post also includes data about the average consumption of pizza in the United States, the states with the most pizza restaurants, and the best pizza joints in the country. And to sum up everything, we are also providing you with some mouthwatering pizza facts that you need to learn about. With this, let us start with the history of pizza in America.
History of Pizza in America
You can’t really say you love pizza without knowing details about its history. That is why today, we are going to trace the history of pizza in America.
The Origins of Pizza
Most pizza history starts in Naples, Italy. But flatbreads date back to Neolithic times, which was thousands of years ago. Civilizations throughout the Mediterranean created their own versions. There is actually good evidence that the ancient Greeks brought “plakous,” which was a flat and round cheese pie, to southern Italy when they colonized the coastal areas between the 8th and 5th centuries B.C. The Pita bread, which is a leavened flatbread, might also be the forerunner to pizza, both the word and the food.
In the Mediterranean Basin, the idea of a flat yeast bread covered with baked-in toppings is hardly unique to Italy. In Nice, there was a pessaladiere, which was garnished with caramelized onions, garlic, olives, and anchovies. In Catalonia, they embellish its coca with olives, tuna, red bell peppers, onions, and sardines. In Turkey, their version of lahmacun from the Arabic for “meat and bread: is slathered with a tomato mixture and lamb. It is usually referred to as Turkish pizza.
However, the story of pizza really starts in the 16th century when the name was introduced in Naples, or in the 18th century when the Neapolitans tried it with tomato, or in the 19th century, when a Neapolitan found the perfect pizza pairing of tomato and mozzarella. By 1522, tomatoes were introduced to Europe from the New World. However, it did not receive a warm welcome. There were rumors that said tomatoes were poisonous. Since Europeans were new to tomatoes, they found their texture suspect and thought they looked spoiled when ripened.
Eventually, the people of Naples, who only had flour, herbs, lard, and cheese in their pantries, added the belittled tomato to their mix, thus creating a simple pizza. Naples, Italy, was founded around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement. It was a thriving waterfront city that was densely packed with lots of working poor who lived in shanty homes. These people needed inexpensive food that they could eat fast during their work. With this, pizza with different toppings was sold by street vendors or informed restaurants, which met their needs. Plainly, the poor people of Naples were the first ones to eat some of the earliest pizzas that were garnished with cheese, tomato, oil, garlic, and anchovies, which are similar to the pizzas that we eat today.
Pizza in America
In 1900, adverse economic conditions forced millions of southern Italians to move to America. Immigrants from Naples were replicating their pizzas in New York and other cities in America, such as Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, New Haven, and Trenton. The Neapolitans were seeking factory jobs and were not looking into making a culinary statement. However, pizzas were still becoming popular due to the number of Italian immigrants.
Southern Italians and Neapolitans opened grocery stores and bakeries that fed other Italian immigrants. However, for the most part, pizza remained a city thing or an ethnic thing. Only a few non-Italians in the first half of the 20th century had ever heard of pizza.
According to a story, in 1905, a man named Gennaro Lombardi registered to the New York City government for the first certification to make and sell pizza in America, which was in his store on Spring Street in what was then a flourishing Italian-American area. That is why according to folklore, Lombardi was the founder of the first pizzeria in America. However, it seems that another man in the name of Filippo Millone, who emigrated to America in the 1890s, possibly began six pizzerias, including the one that Lombardi took over.
The popularity of pizza in America started after World War II. It was during the time when American GIs stationed in Italy returned home with a desire for the pizza that they had discovered abroad. In 1945, one of the returning soldiers named Ira Nevin mixed his eating experiences during the war with the know-how he had gained to create the first gas-fired Bakers Pride pizza oven. These allowed retailers to bake pizzas fast, clean, efficient, and affordable.
From 1945 to 1960, pizzerias started to emerge all over the country. Most were owned by independent operators. Some of them were Italians and Greek, but all of them were American. Back then, people were either buying fresh mozzarella from a local purveyor or making their own at home. They were also making their own sauce using fresh tomatoes or canned ones. The dough was made in-house, too, while toppings are made either in-house or locally.
The habit of eating pizza quickly spread to workers during their lunchtime, families searching for an affordable and satisfying meal out, and bar-goers looking for a food that they could match with alcoholic beverages. It is no coincidence that lots of pizzerias and bars opened up at the end of Prohibition in 1933. Pizza was a perfect communal food, unlike hamburgers and hotdogs. It was meant to be shared because back then, there were no pizza slices for sale. You needed to find a group to order and eat a pizza with.
The Beginning of Pizza Chains in America
The pizza served in most of the early American pizzerias was thin-crusted and casalinga in style. It tends to be very good as it was always made by hand. However, what changed the pizza scape in America was the proliferation of chains. In 1958, Pizza Hut began in Wichita, Kansas. It was followed by Little Caesar’s in 1959 and Domino’s in 1960, which were both in Michigan. When 1989 came, Papa John’s opened in Indiana. None of these pizza chains started with the idea of making the great home-style pizza that the founders grew up with. They all began as a business proposition.
The pizza chains made pizza a commodity. Even though they still make pizza by hand, they utilize cheese, sauce, and dough made in the main location and transported to each city and branch. The pride in the pizza-maker’s craft vanished. The pizza shops began selling cheap, communal food with a fun image. Independent pizzerias could not compete at the price that most pizza chains are offering.
From 1960 to 2000, the number of independent pizzerias decreased as the number of pizza chain outlets increased. With this, lots of people had their first exposure to pizza in a chain restaurant. The Pizza Huts of the world became the standard taste of pizza for many people. Even though most people have never had the real pizza that was made many years ago, pizza from pizza chains today still tastes highly satisfying for many people. Today, pizza is among the most favorite foods in America.
Why is Pizza So Popular in America?
A pizza night is undoubtedly among the most looked-forward-to nights in every American home. Everyone in America seems to love pizza, no matter the age. And this is due to a number of reasons. Pizza is very popular in America, and around 3 billion are sold every year. Americans love pizza so much that they consume 100 acres of pizza a day. If it’s hard to imagine pizza in acres, then that is around 350 slices of pizza per second.
That is quite a lot, right? However, what do you think makes it so popular in the United States? If you also want to know, here are some of the reasons behind the popularity of pizza in America:
The United States soldiers who were returning home from World War II popularized pizza in America.
The popularity of pizza in America is quite historical. It was believed that U.S. soldiers who had tried pizza in Italy during World War II brought their love of the food back to America with them. A lot of people trust that this is the reason pizza is so popular in the country. However, whether this is true or not is often up for debate.
Some people think that pizza is a healthier fast food choice.
Many pizzas are topped with vegetables like pepper, tomato, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, spinach, and more. With this, many people believe that eating a pizza with these toppings is healthier compared to eating a hamburger. While this is indeed a factual reason why pizza is so popular, it is not necessarily correct. It’s because most pizzas have a much higher calorie count than the average burger. 
Pizza is easy to carry around and transport.
A lot of people love to grab a slice of pizza on the go. Other food needs to be carried around in containers, and utensils are needed to serve and eat them, which doesn’t appeal when it comes to convenience. But pizza can be transported in the box it is bought in. Also, people do not need to use utensils to eat pizza. Whether you are traveling to or from work, you can easily grab a pizza and go. 
Pizza can bring people together.
There are foods that are better for sharing than others. Pizza is among the popular sharing foods out there. Everyone can mingle, sit around, and grab a slice while socializing. If you are searching for a meal to serve to a group of people that can promote bonding at the same time, pizza is one of the best choices. 
Pizza tastes good, whether it is hot or cold.
Pizza is perfect for those who are searching for a meal that is just as delicious hot as it is cold. You can microwave a leftover pizza to heat it up or enjoy it while it’s cold. Either way, you will still enjoy its delicious flavors. 
Pizza is a customizable food.
Pizza is among the types of food out there that can be customized completely depending on your preferences. There are plenty of options being offered by pizza restaurants. Plus, you can still change these options to match your personal taste and preference. When it comes to pizza, you can order one that is perfect for you. 
Pizza is affordable.
You can’t deny that pizza is affordable to buy and make as well. Even if it is loaded with all the toppings you want, you still do not have to pay that much for it. The ingredients used in pizza are affordable, and it is easy to cook. Pizza gives the opportunity to feed a group of people at a minimal cost, making it more popular. 
When pizza is eaten, endorphins are released.
Pizza is filled with all the ingredients that taste good, even if it is not great for our health. But did you know that when people consume pizza, it signals happy vibes to the brain, urging the brain to release feel-good hormones called endorphins? When these courses through the brain and veins, it can make a person feel somewhat euphoric. This feeling that pizza can give people makes it popular in the United States and many other parts of the world. 
Pizza is the type of fast food that appeals to the desire of people for convenience.
In America, convenience is very important for most people. It’s because most people here live life on the move, and they do not want to waste too much time sweating over hot pots in the kitchen. Pizza is among the fastest fast-food possible. It is simple to order and get delivered to your home. It is also a quick and easy way to feed your family, which appeals to the human desire and need for time-saving convenience. 
Different Styles of Pizza in America
Italians may have invented the pizza, but the Americans have diversified it. The number of regional pizza styles in America is far and wide. Compared to Italian pizzas, American pizzas are usually bigger, heavier, and packed with more toppings. To give you more ideas, here are the different styles of pizza in America:
New York Style Pizza
New York pizza is probably among the most reminiscent of the original Southern Italian pizzas. It was brought to the city by immigrants from Naples and adapted along the way. It is a large and round pizza that features a thinner crust compared to its Midwestern alternatives. Its crust is made with a high gluten flour, which contributes to its chewy crust.
It is sauced with a well-seasoned tomato base, heavy on low-moisture mozzarella cheese, and the toppings can vary from classic pepperonis and sausages to ziti pizza. It is also topped with dried oregano, garlic powder, and grated parmesan cheese, which are all optional. Some of the original New York pizza shops include Lombardi’s and Totonno’s. There are also lots of hole-in-the-wall pizza spots out there that are more affordable.
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
Among the many pizza styles in America, the Chicago style is probably the most non-traditional. It is popularly known as deep-dish. It is a round pie that has tall edges filled with an inch or two of toppings. The order of the toppings is also different. Cheese is added first, and the sauce is the finishing element. This way, the cheese will not burn as it is baked longer than other pizza styles. This makes the crust crisper and almost fried.
The dough of a deep-dish pizza is usually made using cornmeal or semolina, which gives its flaky texture. It is also pressed into the pan instead of being rolled or hand-tossed. There are also deep-dish pizzas that have stuffed crusts.
California Style Pizza
This is generally an example of California cuisine. It is fresh and vegetable-forward with things such as goat’s cheese and arugula pesto. Its dough is also a bit lighter. California-style pizza is believed to have originated in the Bay Area before it became popular in the rest of the state. It tends to have a soft and thin base that is similar to the Neapolitan style. It is usually cooked in a wood-fired oven and is topped with fresh ingredients, like artichokes and kale.
One of the most popular restaurants that serve this style of pizza is California Pizza Kitchen. It also serves innovative variations, such as barbecue chicken pizzas. According to pizza enthusiasts, California pizza has paved the way for a pizza scene that is more experimental and that has spread across America.
This is an American pizza variety that has one of the country’s most beloved toppings, which is pepperoni. In Italy, the topping pertains to a larger pepper. However, in America, it means a spicy salami that is made with a combination of pork, beef, and spices. The popularity of Pepperoni pizza started in the 1950s. Today, beef pepperoni pizza is the most popular version. Also, the preparation of Pepperoni pizza varies from one state to another, but it has become a staple across America. In general, it is made of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni.
Chicago Thin Crust Pizza
In addition to its thin crispy crust, this pizza also has a heavily herbed, zesty tomato sauce and lots of mozzarella cheese. It can also be topped with pepperoni or Italian sausage. Other options are prosciutto, bacon, and various vegetables. The Chicago thin crust pizza is the number one choice among locals.
Sicilian Style Pizza
Sicilian pizza in America pertains to a thick, square-shaped dough that is topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Most of the time, the sauce is placed on top of the cheese for the crust to be well-cooked. This pizza was introduced to New York by Sicilian immigrants. The original variety did not contain mozzarella. However, Italian bakers in New York City had access to inexpensive mozzarella. That’s why it was only logical to include it in the ingredients. Today, Sicilian-style pizza is popular in many Italian-American communities in New York, Connecticut, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
The Greek-style pizza was introduced by Greek immigrants in Boston back in the late 1960s. It features a thick, wettish dough, tomato sauce with a strong oregano flavor, and greasy cheese. It is mostly baked in a heavily greased pan, which results in a lacy, crisp edge, and fried bottom crust. Other toppings, like feta cheese, artichokes, and Kalamata olives, are also great for toppings but are only optional. However, this pizza style should be consumed within the first fifteen minutes after baking as it does not reheat well.
This type of American pizza is made by putting the stretched dough on the grates over hot coals, cooking it on one side, then flipping the dough and topping it in reverse. Cheese comes first before the sauce. Then, it is returned to the grates for the other side to cook and for the cheese to melt. This method of cooking results in a crispy, airy, and well-charred pizza that has a smoky flavor. You can top this pizza style with any ingredient that you like. It is known to have originated from Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island.
This is an American pizza variety that is different from other styles due to its crust. It’s because its dough is not allowed to be proof for a long time, and it ends up thin and dense. Grandma Pie is baked using metal pans, giving it a rectangular shape that is crispy on the bottom. It is usually topped with shredded mozzarella, garlic, tomato sauce, and olive oil. Sometimes, other toppings are added, such as broccoli rabe and sausages. This pizza style originated on Long Island, specifically at a family-owned restaurant called Umberto’s.
The Most Liked and Disliked Pizza Toppings in the United States
In 2021, YouGov conducted a survey to learn about the most liked and disliked pizza toppings in the United States. Below are the results:
In a poll of over 6,000 adults in the United States, the most liked pizza topping is pepperoni. About 64% of Americans say they like pepperoni as a pizza topping. Some of the other favorite toppings are sausage (56%), mushrooms (54%), extra cheese (52%), and onions (48%).
When it comes to the most disliked pizza toppings, a majority of Americans say that they do not like anchovies, which got 61% dislikes. Around 52% of them do not like eggplant, while 44% dislike artichoke on pizza. When asked about broccoli, 39% said that it is a no for them. The ever-controversial pineapple is the fifth most disliked topping, which got 35%. A quarter of respondents, or 26%, said they like pineapple on pizza.
How Much Pizza is Consumed in America?
Since pizza is a very popular food in the United States, how much pizza do you think Americans consume? If you are also curious, take a look at the following data below:
According to the Washington Post, in the United States, people consume 100 acres of pizza each day, which is equivalent to 3 billion pizzas or 46 slices of pizza for every person in the country every year. That means, for every second, around 350 slices of pizza are sold in America.
Based on a poll conducted by the restaurant chain CiCi’s Pizza, which was reported in the New York Daily News, the average American will consume around 6,000 slices of pizza during the course of a lifetime. They also surveyed 1,000 people and found out that one-third of those who consume pizza do so at least once a week. Also, 1 out of 10 Americans eats as many as 3 slices as often as 3 times a week.
The Top States in America with the Most Pizza Restaurants
Pizza is truly a favorite food in America. With this, pizza stores currently exist in every state in the U.S. Below are some data on the states with the greatest number of pizza restaurants.
According to Statista, in 2019, California had the most pizza restaurants in the United States, with 7,281 units. It was followed by New York with 5,719 units, Texas with 5,200 units, Florida with 4,838 units, and Pennsylvania with 4,633 units.
The graph above shows the states with the largest number of pizza restaurants per capita in America in 2019. Based on Statista, Connecticut had the most pizza restaurants per capita in 2019, with 3.65 units for every 10,000 people.
The Largest Pizza Chains in the United States
The United States is known as the largest pizza market in the world, with $46.24 billion out of $145 billion in total sales in 2020 worldwide. The demand for pizza in America is only growing, with more than 15% more American consumers eating pizza each week compared to two years before. Most of the time, pizza is associated with large brands like Papa John’s and Domino’s. But did you know that chain pizzerias and independent pizzerias actually share almost the same share, with each type of business having 59% and 41% of the market share, respectively?
However, if you are an investor or market analyst, your focus should be on the chain store side of the industry. This is because they are the primary force in setting trends and influencing where the market is going. With that, here are the top ten largest pizza chains in America in 2020, based on their gross sales:
Number one on the chart is Domino’s Pizza, which is the largest pizza chain not just in the United States but in the world in terms of revenue and second in terms of stores opened. It has more than 15,900 stores in 85 different countries. It was also among the first to pioneer the concept of fast pizza delivery. In 2020, its gross annual sales were $12.25 billion.
2. Pizza Hut
Second on the rank is Pizza Hut, which dominates more than half of the whole U.S. pizza market. This pizza chain started in 1958 and became one of the most prolific pizza chains in the world. In 2020, it earned a total of $12.03 billion.
3. Little Caesars
This is also a competitive pizza chain that offers affordable pizza and fast delivery. It focuses on less fancy ingredients and smaller stores with lower overhead. This is why many students are mostly buying their pizza, as they offer pizzas of similar sizes at half or even less than the price of other stores. In 2020, its gross annual sales were $4 billion.
4. Papa John’s Pizza
This pizza chain was founded in 1984 and has reached 5,199 stores as of early 2021. It was the first pizza chain to offer online ordering, which is perfect for those who do not want to go out and visit a store. This pizza store focuses on the growing consumer trends for fresh and green ingredients. It is the most popular among the large pizza chains in states that prefer local brands. In 2020, it earned a total of $3.695 billion.
5. California Pizza Kitchen
This pizza chain became popular when it introduced unique concepts, such as Thai chicken and BBQ pizzas. It offers food in a restaurant setting, unlike other chains that have the traditional order and carryout store. In 2020, its gross annual sales were $840 million.
6. Papa Murphy’s
This pizza chain was the first and only to use the “take-and-bake” concept. Instead of ordering and picking up a ready-cooked pizza, you will receive an uncooked pizza that you can take home and bake yourself. This way, the time between when the pizza is fresh out of the oven and when customers can take the first bite is reduced. In 2020, it earned a total of $827 million.
This pizza chain is mostly located in large malls. It began when Carmela and Gennaro ran an Italian salumeria. The pizza they served there became so popular that it motivated them to open a new restaurant that is focused solely on the pizza. In 2020, it earned $609 million.
8. Marco’s Pizza
This pizza chain was founded by Pasquale Giammarco. He was an Italian immigrant that had culinary training and was very passionate about pizza. The pizza they serve here remains authentic to Italian-style pizza. In 2020, its gross annual sales were $596.36 million.
9. Chuck E. Cheese’s
This pizza chain is popularly known for giving birthday parties fun video games and activities. With how much kids love to eat pizza, it is not surprising that it is one of the largest pizza chains in the United States. In 2020, it earned $504 million.
10. Cici’s Pizza
In addition to a pizza bar, Cici’s Pizza also comes with arcade rooms and other activities that keep customers entertained. In 2020, it earned $445 million.
Mouthwatering Pizza Facts You Need To Know
If you are hungry to learn more about pizza, no worries, as we got it covered for you. Below are some of the mouthwatering pizza facts that you need to know:
- The word pizza dates back more than a thousand years. It was first mentioned in 997 CE in a Latin text written in southern Italy.
- During the Super Bowl, more than 2 million Pizza Hut pizzas are sold, making it one of the biggest days for pizzerias around the country.
- The first documented pizzeria in the world was opened in Port’Alba in Naples, Italy, in the late 1800s.
- The very first pizza restaurant in America was Lombardi’s, which is located in New York City.
- The consumption of pizza has increased America’s consumption of cheese by 41% since 1995.
- The most expensive pizza in the world was made by master pizza chef Renato Viola. It is called Louis XIII, which is topped with lobster, three types of caviar, buffalo mozzarella, squilla mantis, and pink Australian salt. Currently, it costs €8,300, which is about $12,000 in the United States.
- The largest pizza ever made is 122 feet and 8 inches in diameter. It was named “Ottavia,” which was made in Fiera Roma, in Rome, Italy, on December 13, 2012.
- The average pizza slice in New York City is usually equal to the price of a subway ride.
- In Japan, common pizza toppings include mayonnaise and squid.
- Back in 2013, Domino’s made DVDs that smelled like pizza.
- Did you know that one 18-inch pizza gives you more pizza compared to two 12-inch pizzas? It’s because the larger the diameter of the pizza, the more you will get per slice.
- Each year, 251.7 million pounds of pepperoni are consumed in the United States just from pizza.
- About 61% of Americans prefer thin crust pizza.
- Around 93% of Americans consume at least one slice of pizza per month.
- There are approximately 70,000 pizzerias in the United States.
- In the late 1960s, the 113th Military Intelligence Unit of the U.S. Army spied on reporters and politicians using fake pizza deliveries.
- In 2010, pizza played an important role in catching a serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper.” This was when an undercover officer took a DNA sample from a slice of pizza the killer had been eating at a family birthday party.
- A pizza was delivered to the International Space Station in 2001. It was a six-inch salami pizza from Pizza Hut, which was the first pizza delivered to outer space.
- The U.S. Military Lab invented a ready-to-eat pizza that can last for up to three years. It is made for soldiers abroad who are craving pizza and for anyone preparing in case of emergency.
- Dough-spinning is not just for show as it is the best way to spread the dough evenly and make a uniform crust. It also helps the dough to retain its moisture.
- The most popular night of the week to eat pizza is Saturday night.
- The most popular pizza size in the United States is 14 inches in diameter.
- One in six males aged 2 to 39 eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on any day.
- In Italy, pizzas were originally square-shaped.
- Around 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States.
Without a doubt, pizza is indeed among the most popular and loved foods in America. At the present time, there are lots of pizza styles in the United States that you can try. And in any state you visit, you can surely find a pizzeria near you. It’s amazing how shortly after the pizza was introduced in America, it became more popular here than it was in Italy.
America’s love for pizza will surely continue in the coming years. More and more pizzerias are opening recently, and many are offering lots of new flavors and giving the old-time favorite snack some new twists. We hope this post gave you wonderful insights into America’s love affair with pizza.
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