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A pan and a plan: how Buddy’s “Detroit style” pizza evolved from local delicacy to national delight

Halloween night is one of the busiest pizza delivery nights of the year. If you're having people over after trick-or-treating, there's a good chance you'll have a rectangular deep dish delivered to your home. 

That style of pizza—with the cheese pushed to the edges, forming a caramelized crust—that's Detroit style pizza. The Michigan invention is now becoming more popular in culinary scenes across the country.

Buddy's Pizza

Stateside producer Mike Blank and Michigan Radio digital intern Katie Raymond headed to the original Buddy’s Pizza restaurant to find out more about the history of our unique style of bread and cheese heaven. They talked to former busboy, now chief brand officer of Buddy’s Pizza, Wes Pikula to get the story of how Detroit style pizza came to be just after World War II.

Wes Pikula sits at a booth in Buddy's pizza looking to the side
Credit Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Wes Pikula started out as a busboy at Buddy's Pizza. Now, he's chief brand officer for the company.

Pikula said that the original Buddy’s Pizza got its start inside a bar owned by August “Gus” Guerra. Men who fought in World War II came back talking about the kinds of pizza they’d had in Italy. Guerra decided he would add a Sicilian style pizza to the menu. But there was a problem.

“There was nothing that he could find that could bake this pizza,” said Pikula.

The area around Buddy’s was filled with automotive suppliers, and many of Guerra’s customers worked at tool and die shops. They mentioned to him that there was something they used in the shop to collect nuts and bolts or to serve as a drip tray.

“Lo and behold, it was brought into the restaurant. They put some dough in it and it baked amazingly," Pikula said. "I mean, so, it was better than anything else they had tried.”

The pans at Buddy’s are part of what makes its Detroit style pizza unique, Pikula explained. The other is how they layer their pizza. The restaurant starts with dough, then adds pepperoni, Wisconsin brick cheese, and finally, a skimming of sauce in three stripes across the top.

Pikula says the style that originated at Buddy’s went on to be imitated and adapted at many other restaurants in the region.

“But to make the true Detroit style, you have to make what’s at Buddy’s pizza because that’s where it started.”

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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