Hawaiian pizza inventor Sam Panopoulos dies aged 83

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Hawaiian pizza's Ontario rootsImage source, AFP
Image caption,
The Hawaiian pizza, surprisingly, has roots in Ontario

Sam Panopoulos, who has died aged 83, leaves a legacy that has delighted, confused and appalled diners worldwide. Often at the same time.

Panopoulos is the Canadian man who invented Hawaiian pizza, a dish so divisive it led to a presidential outburst this year.

He passed away in hospital suddenly on Thursday.

Panopoulos emigrated to Canada from Greece in 1954 when he was 20, eventually going on to own and operate several successful restaurants with his two brothers.

It was in one of those restaurants in 1962 that Panopoulos was inspired to add canned pineapple to pizza.

Image source, Panopoulos family
Image caption,
It was invented by Sam Panopoulos, who moved to Canada from Greece aged 20

In February, Panopoulos recounted to the BBC how he and his brothers came up with the idea for the pizza, topped with pineapple and ham.

They were then owners of the Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, a southwestern Ontario town about 290km (180 miles) from Toronto and 80km from Detroit.

"We just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste," Panopoulos told the BBC. "We were young in the business and we were doing a lot of experiments."

Customers ended up loving the savoury sweetness of the dish.

The creation also capitalised on the mid-century tiki trend, which popularised Polynesian culture in North America.

Things you may not know about the Hawaiian pizza

  • Its tropical name - "Hawaiian"- came from the can of pineapples used in the first creation
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a fan of the dish and came out on #teampineapple on Twitter earlier this year
  • Chef Gordon Ramsey is not on #teampineapple
  • Some Germans have laid claim to the invention, saying it is based on their pineapple-cheese-ham sandwich, the Toast Hawaii, popular in the 1950s

Media often sought out Panopoulos after learning that the origins of the controversial tropical-flavoured pizza topping had actually hailed from Canada.

He was back in the spotlight earlier this year after Iceland's president, Guoni Johannesson, created an online uproar by announcing to a group of schoolchildren that he was "fundamentally opposed" to pineapple on pizza and suggested it should be banned.

Panopoulos said at the time he did not understand the president's opposition to the pineapple topping, which he thought gave the dish a "refreshing" bite.

Panopoulos' obituary describes him as "unforgettable personality" whose "candid and frank sense of humour, his booming laugh and blunt honesty will be missed by his family, friends, former employees and customers".