Hip to Be Square: How the Auto Industry Shaped Detroit-Style Pizza

Detroit-style pizza is rectangular with a thick crust. (dalecruse/flickr)

By Lisa Green

July 27, 2022

As Michiganders, we put onions on hot dogs, olives on hamburgers, and snack on Polish donuts in February. But have you ever wondered why? In our Michigan Moments: Food series, we’re checking out the history behind iconic Michigan foods and beverages. This is the ninth article of the series. Look for a new one every Wednesday!

MICHIGAN — Though it may come as a surprise to you, food from the Midwest might be considered unusual by our coastal neighbors. Midwestern cooking often combines culinary traditions from our families’ immigrant backgrounds, locally grown and produced ingredients, and the foods of Indigenous tribes. And in Michigan especially, our home cookin’ includes provisions that were concocted, bottled, and packaged by mitten-state entrepreneurs. If you’re curious about the history of some of your favorite foods and beverages, read on to discover how Michigan history creates Michigan culture.

Detroit-Style Pizza

In Detroit, it’s hip to be square. Detroit-style pizza is square-shaped, deep-dish pan pizza with crisp edges. And it’s a beloved culinary favorite of the Motor City.

Why the square shape? Like many things, Detroit’s automotive history shaped this tradition. In 1946, Gus Guerra and Concetta “Connie” Piccinato were looking for a new way to bake Sicilian-style pizza at their former speakeasy restaurant, Buddy’s Rendezvous, at Six Mile Road and Conant Street in Detroit.

As the legend goes, they discovered an unused, forged-steel drip pan from a local automotive plant, which was originally used to hold small parts and scrap metal. The Buddy’s team tried it out and the result was a delicious pizza with a crispy crust. Thus, America’s first square-shaped pizza was born.

Another unique Detroit-style variation? The toppings are applied backwards.

The original Detroit-style pizzas were made with pepperoni layered directly onto the crust, allowing the meat’s flavors to absorb into the dough. Follow up with Wisconsin brick cheese and three strips of tomato sauce, and you’ve got yourself a Detroit original.

The Detroit-style spread like wildfire to other Motor City restaurants, but Buddy’s is still the original. Buddy’s Rendezvous expanded into Buddy’s Pizza, which then sent Detroit-style pizzas to locations outside Detroit. The Daily Meal ranked Buddy’s Pizza as #6 on a list of the 101 Best Pizzas in America.


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