The History and Love Affair of Omaha with Pizza – A Tasty Slice of America

The History and Love Affair of Omaha with Pizza – A Tasty Slice of America

Omaha has long been a city with a love affair for pizza. This Midwestern metropolis has seen a myriad of pizzerias come and go, each leaving its mark on the culinary landscape. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the history of pizza in Omaha and the United States, exploring how this simple Italian dish has evolved into one of America’s favorite foods. So, grab a slice and join us on this delicious journey!

A Brief History of Pizza in the United States

The history of pizza in the United States dates back to the late 19th century when Italian immigrants began arriving in New York City. These newcomers brought with them their culinary traditions, including the beloved pizza. The first pizzerias opened in Little Italy, Manhattan, and catered primarily to the Italian community.

However, it wasn’t long before pizza captured the hearts of Americans from all walks of life. By the mid-20th century, pizza had become a staple in American cuisine. The post-World War II economic boom led to the rapid expansion of pizza chains and local pizzerias across the country.

The Love Affair Begins: Omaha’s First Pizzerias

The story of pizza in Omaha began in 1946 when Caniglia’s Pizzaria opened its doors. The Caniglia family, originally from Sicily, introduced Omaha to the joys of pizza, and although the initial response was slow, the city soon fell in love with this Italian delight. Caniglia’s Pizzaria set the stage for a thriving pizza scene that continues to this day.

La Casa’s: Omaha’s Rectangular Pizza Pioneer

In 1953, Rose Patane Cavalieri opened La Casa’s, another iconic Omaha pizzeria. La Casa’s is known for its signature rectangular pizza, which has become a beloved favorite among locals. The restaurant expanded over the years, opening one of the city’s first takeout-only pizza shops in 1965 and eventually adding more locations throughout Omaha.

Big Fred’s and the Double-Crust Pizza

Big Fred’s Pizza Garden and Lounge opened in 1965, making a name for itself with its signature double-crust pizza, the Goodie Roonie. The popularity of Big Fred’s grew quickly, leading to expansions and a lasting legacy in Omaha’s pizza scene.

Johnny Sortino’s and the Omaha Pizza Chain

In 1966, brothers John and Tony Sortino transformed their open-air fruit market into a pizza parlor. The success of their venture led to the creation of the Johnny Sortino’s pizza chain, which became an Omaha favorite. Over the years, Johnny Sortino’s expanded and adapted to changes in the city’s landscape, becoming an integral part of Omaha’s pizza history.

The Godfather’s: An Offer Omaha Couldn’t Refuse

In 1973, Willie Theisen opened Wild Willy’s Tavern, which would later evolve into the Godfather’s pizza chain. Godfather’s quickly gained national attention with its catchy slogan, “An offer you can’t refuse,” and its reputation for delicious pizza. Today, Godfather’s remains an Omaha staple, celebrating its golden anniversary in 2023.

Mama’s Pizza: A Council Bluffs Legacy

Mama’s Pizza made its way to Omaha from neighboring Council Bluffs in 1975, when John Howell and Greg Kean partnered with Lou Pantano and Yano Falcone to open a second location in the city. Mama’s Pizza has since expanded to multiple locations, serving up delicious pies to the Omaha community.

Sgt. Peffer’s: A Florence District Original

Sgt. Peffer’s, originally Pefferoni’s Pizza, was founded in 1980

by the Peffer family in Omaha’s Florence district. The pizzeria quickly gained popularity and expanded to 15 outlets, mostly franchised. Today, Sgt. Peffer’s continues to serve the Omaha community with locations on Saddle Creek Road and Millard Avenue.

Don Carmelo’s: Sicilian Roots and New York-Style Pizza

Don Carmelo’s Pizzeria was established in 1981 by Carmelo Magistro, a Sicilian immigrant with a passion for pizza. After owning pizzerias on the East Coast, Magistro brought his New York-style pizza to Omaha. His sons now manage Don Carmelo’s two locations in Elkhorn and Rockbrook Village.

Zio’s: An Omaha Pizza Institution

Zio’s Pizzeria opened in 1985 at Beverly Hills Plaza, and quickly became an Omaha favorite. With four locations, Zio’s continues to serve the Omaha community with its delicious pizza and welcoming atmosphere.

Lansky’s and Orsi’s: A Silver Anniversary

Both Lansky’s and Orsi’s Pizzeria celebrated their silver anniversaries in 2023. Lansky’s, founded by the late Sam Marvin, has grown to four locations across Omaha. Meanwhile, Orsi’s, located in Little Italy, began promoting its pizza in earnest in 1998 and has since become a beloved neighborhood favorite.

Pizza Chains and Omaha’s Culinary Landscape

Omaha’s pizza scene has seen its fair share of national chains over the years. Pizza Hut, Shakey’s, Valentino’s, and Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor have all left their mark on the city. While some have closed their doors, others continue to serve the Omaha community.

The Impact of Omaha’s Pizzerias on American Cuisine

Omaha’s rich history of pizzerias has played a significant role in shaping the American pizza landscape. The city’s love for pizza has led to the creation of unique styles and flavors that have become an integral part of American cuisine. From rectangular pizza at La Casa’s to double-crust creations at Big Fred’s, Omaha has undoubtedly left its mark on the pizza world.

Omaha’s Pizza Legacy: A Continuing Love Affair

Today, Omaha remains a city that loves its pizza. New pizzerias continue to open, adding to the already diverse pizza landscape. Whether it’s a national chain or a local family-owned establishment, Omaha’s pizzerias are a testament to the city’s enduring love affair with pizza.

Omaha’s pizza history is a fascinating tale of culinary innovation and cultural exchange. This Midwestern city has embraced pizza with open arms, allowing it to become an integral part of its culinary identity. From Caniglia’s Pizzaria in 1946 to the thriving pizza scene of today, Omaha’s love for pizza continues to grow. As we look to the future, we can only expect more delicious creations and memorable moments in Omaha’s ongoing pizza love affair.

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