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Detroit-Style Pizza: An American Institution Since 1946

Nineteen forty-six. U.S. troops returned in droves, victorious from World War II. Industrial plants resumed manufacturing automobiles after devoting lines to M5 tanks, jeeps, and B-24 bombers to support America’s war effort. Detroit was classic Americana in an era when laundry was still hung on wooden porch railings, children played stickball on brick-lined streets, and American ingenuity and patriotism were at all-time highs. It was the year Gus Guerra proved that Cadillacs and Fords weren’t the only innovations to roll out of Detroit when, on the corner of Conant and Six Mile, he crafted the world’s first Detroit-style pizza.

When many returning soldiers brought newfound tastes for European recipes to the United States, most restaurants answered by serving fish ‘n chips. But at Buddy’s Rendezvous, a Prohibition-era speakeasy (or “blind pig,” in Detroit-speak) that he had turned into a legitimate business, Gus Guerra recognized the soldiers’ flair for cultural dishes for what it was: a hunger for something new and different. Thus, he was inspired to create a new type of pizza pie. He enlisted his wife, Anna, to prepare a special pizza dough borrowed from the recipes of her mother’s Sicilian homeland. He lined the dough with a layer of pepperoni, a heaping layer of cheese, and topped it off with a thick drizzle of red sauce. The original and authentic Detroit-style pizza was born.

Gus Guerra’s gamble paid off as Detroit-style pizza quickly became a favorite neighborhood treat shared between friends and families enjoying moments of future nostalgia – a longtime staple of Detroit’s best cuisine. Today, dozens of pizzerias in Detroit and beyond continue to serve authentic Detroit-style pizza, a true slice of Americana.

In 1953, Gus and Anna and their business partner, Gaspar Genco (Anna’s uncle), sold their business to Jimmy Valenti and Jimmy Bonacorsi (who shorted the name to “Buddy’s”). The couple opened a new restaurant, Cloverleaf Pizza. Both establishments sold Gus’s original pizza recipe.

Buddy’s was eventually sold again, this time to William and Shirlee Jacobs. A former employee, Louis Tourtois, took the recipe with him to Shield’s, which grew from a corner bar to a six-location chain; and later made it the foundation of his own pizzeria, Loui’s Pizza. Today, Detroit-style pizza continues to be served at restaurants throughout Detroit, including Detroit Style Pizza Company, operated by Shawn Randazzo and his mother, Linda Michaels. Randazzo has helped popularize Motor City’s own pizza by winning international pizza competitions nationwide and teaming up with others from around the country who share the same passion for authentic Detroit-style Pizza.