In a delicious twist of fate, Detroit-style pizza has risen to the top of America’s pizza preferences, just in time for National Pizza Day 2024. This deep-dish delight, known for its thick, crispy crust and reverse layering of cheese and toppings, now leads America’s pizza preferences, marking a significant shift in culinary trends and a growing appreciation for regional pizza variations.
Detroit’s famous, award-winning square pie has become as synonymous with Motown as the Coney Dog and Faygo beverages. In Michigan, hundreds of residents and out-of-towners looking for a pizza fix, eat slices of Detroit’s famous pie each week.
“[It’s] probably the crispy, crunchy edges and bottom with the pillowy soft inner dough. It’s such a great vehicle to bring the pizza to the people,” says Jeremy Damaske, owner of Pie Sci Pizza in Detroit, which sells 700 to 1,000 Detroit-style pies weekly. “We get a lot of out-of-town folks who come in specifically to have the Detroit-style pizza. I would say the vast majority of reactions are very positive.”
A Pizza Innovation and Inspiration
The Detroit-style pizza originated in the kitchen of Buddy’s Pizza in 1946 at the intersection of Six Mile Road and Conant Street on Detroit’s east side. Owner Gus Guerra and his team borrowed forged steel pans from a local auto plant, birthing a uniquely layered square pie with a light, crispy crust reminiscent of Italian focaccia bread.
The invention kick-started a pizza revolution in Detroit and metro Detroit. Numerous Buddy’s spinoffs opened and put unique twists on the crispy, cheese-cornered innovation to become pizza institutions in their own right. Beginning in 1937, Shield’s Pizza started to serve Detroit-style pizza in the decades following and has been a favorite Metro Detroit pizza haunt for years. Cloverleaf Bar and Restaurant, opened by Guerra in 1953 after he sold Buddy’s, earns numerous honors for its pizza.
Buddy’s pizza concoction also gave rise to the term Detroit-style pizza. First described as such in industry trade magazines during the 1980s, the term became more widespread when a Texas pizza business operated by former Metro Detroiters called its product Detroit-style pizza to stand out.
More than a half-century later, the square pie continues to have an impact nationwide. Today, Detroit-style pizza places are everywhere, from Minneapolis — home of Wrecktangle Pizza’s award-winning breakfast pizza — and New York City to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
Hungry pizza enthusiasts in Motown can find Detroit-style pizza with all manner of toppings — everything from classic cheese and pepperoni to meat lovers and Hawaiian to unique, restaurant-specific creations named after local landmarks.
A History of Pizza Deliciousness
While Chicago and New York are famous for their respective deep-dish and street-style, foldable pizzas, Detroit’s square slice has given the Motor City a leg up in the national pizza game.
“When people think of pizza, there are many places that come to mind, like Chicago or New York,” says Emily Daunt, vice president of Communications and Brand Strategy for the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. “However, with Michigan being home to some of the most nationally famous franchises like Little Caesar’s, Dominos, Hungry Howie’s and Jet’s Pizza and nearly 3,000 other pizza places across that state, that’s a pretty big piece of the pie.”
Detroit-style pizza has been labeled “pilgrimage-worthy,” and when pizza cravings hit, Detroiters don’t have to go far to get it. In the process of naming Detroit the best pizza city in America in 2023, Anytime Estimates’ study found Motown ranked among the top 10 in pizzeria density, with one pizza restaurant every 1.58 miles. The team gave Detroit-style pizza the nod over larger and more famous pizza cities because of its affordability and availability.
Detroit-style pizza’s nationwide recognition and status as an important player in the pizza game is the latest tip of the cap for Michigan. The Great Lakes State has long been a pizza mecca with a long history of feeding hungry customers looking for delicious pies.
Pizza enthusiasts nationwide are undoubtedly familiar with national chains like Domino’s, Little Caesars, Jets, and Hungry Howie’s. They may be unaware that all four of them, which rank among the most successful pizza chains in the country, originated in Metro Detroit.
As of last year, Domino’s, which began in Ypsilanti in 1960, had the second-highest number of locations among national pizza chains with 6,838. Little Caesars of “Pizza! Pizza!” fame was founded in Garden City, Michigan, in 1959 and has more than 4,000 locations. Hungry Howie’s and Jets Pizza, founded in Michigan in 1973 and 1978, respectively, combine for nearly 1,000 locations.
Enjoy a Slice of Detroit-Style Pizza on National Pizza Day
Even after National Pizza Day, pizza enthusiasts in Michigan and elsewhere nationwide can enjoy pizza in a whole new way. Last year, Visit Detroit announced the launch of the Detroit Pizza Passport. This first-of-its-kind digital pass allows pizza lovers to visit participating Motor City pizza joints, earn points when they visit, and redeem them for prizes.
The best way to enjoy the deliciousness of Detroit-style pizza is to dig into a slice or two on National Pizza Day. Local and national honors, dozens of locations, and thousands of satisfied customers make it clear that Detroit-style pizza’s popularity and impact will continue to grow.