Disclaimer: This is a report on research in progress. One that quite likely will never result in a definitive answer. At this point, the resources we have located are city directories and advertising in the Saginaw News. If you have any early menus or other materials that could shed light on when pizza first appeared on Saginaw restaurant menus, we would love to hear from you.
While a member of the CTK Team was picking up a pizza at Cottage Inn on Bay Road, he couldn’t help but notice a sign with information about the history of the business. The original Cottage Inn, located in Ann Arbor, started serving pizza in 1948 and lays claim to being the first restaurant in that city to offer pizza on its menu. Having eaten at the original restaurant a number of times - long before it was enlarged and remodeled - he had expected it was much older. Which led to the CTK member to pondering a more important question--When did Saginaw eateries start serving pizza? After too many conversations and the realization that the first pizza the CTK team member ate was a Chef Boyardee kit about four years after they were introduced in 1955, we started our exploration.
Our first step was a simple keyword search of The Saginaw News. The word “pizza” has appeared in the Saginaw News roughly 39,377 times since 1881. However, 39,353 of those usages are after 1948. Of the usages printed prior to 1945, only two of them refer to food – the others are names, misspelled words, and issues with digitized type.
Before you continue, it would be appropriate to take a moment to place Saginaw in a National context. This link will take you an outline of the history of pizza in the United States.
The first substantial appearance of the word “pizza” in The Saginaw News was a recipe in what appears to be a syndicated column, “For your Kitchen Today.” Featured on October 10, 1945, the columnist assumed that readers were unfamiliar with the food and started with pronunciation guidance and a definition:
“Pizza (pronounced peet-za) is an Italian pie with a savory filling usually made of sausage or anchovies and cheese. It the after-the-movie snack favorite of teenagers.”
That article seemed to be a starting signal and pizza would soon become prominently featured in advertisements for Saginaw restaurants. We might note, that perhaps pizza was readily available in Saginaw prior to 1945 and was simply not being advertised. However, if advertising is any indication, pizza quickly became a common and popular food.
On January 24, 1946. The Log Cabin at 496 Shattuck Road – near north Michigan Avenue- advertised a Fish Fry every Friday night and Pizza, Monday only. This is the earliest Saginaw News advertisement for pizza we have discovered. The Log Cabin advertised other Italian dishes too. Unfortunately, the history of the Log Cabin in Carrolton and its proprietor, Frank Lofaro, is elusive. Also, the restaurant is easily confused with other restaurants in the region carrying the name Log Cabin.
Within a couple of years, two new restaurants in Saginaw were promoting pizza: Lucy’s Italian Spaghetti House, 124 North Baum and Marge’s Spaghetti House, 419 Davenport. The Davenport establishment is the best documented of the three.
Marge’s Spaghetti House:
Turner, Mrs. Margret (Marge), Saginaw, Michigan.
“Passed away Wednesday evening, June 15  . . .Margaret DeLuccia was born Oct. 4, 1897, in Casamarciano, Italy. She was a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church and its Altar Society, the Widow to Widow Club. She was a former Waitress at Moonlight Gardens* and a housekeeper at St. Helen’s Rectory for fourteen years. Mrs. Turner owned and operated Marge’s Spaghetti House for eighteen years retiring in 1967.”
(The Saginaw News, June 16, 1983.)
Marge Turner announced the grand opening of her restaurant at 419 Davenport on April 15, 1948. Early advertising proclaimed:
“Have you tried Marge’s Spaghetti House: If you haven’t you’ve
missed a treat. Marge, your waitress at Moonlight* for many years is bringing to Saginaw real Italian dishes.
As every dish is prepared fresh when ordered . . .necessitating some wait …Marge Suggests that you call and say when you will arrive …. Then everything will be all fixed for you.” (The Saginaw News, April 24, 1948.)
Sometimes, the restaurant is listed as Marge and Angelo’s Spaghetti House and Marge Turner’s brother also participated in the operation of the eatery.
Marge’s Spaghetti House was quite literally a house – a residence turned into a restaurant. City directories indicate that Margaret Turner often lived in an apartment in the structure. Today its location on the southeast corner of North Michigan and Davenport has been totally altered by the construction of I-675. Lost under confusing layers of an expressway entrance ramp and street system realigned to accommodate the highway, it is hard to envision the site when the restaurant thrived. It was in a densely built area, a thriving mixture of residential and commercial structures. Nearby was the Northside Theater. Also, Davenport led directly to the Johnson Street Bridge and created a direct link with downtown Saginaw.
Although no menus have survived, an early advertisement lists some of the items included: antipasto, braciola, bairoli, gallline cacciatora, spaghetti and – of course -pizza. No description of the interior survives; however, it was spacious enough to provide space for hosting showers, birthday parties and other special events. A description of one birthday party notes “dancing and games were enjoyed by 50 guests.”
Marge’s Spaghetti House remained in business until the mid to late 1950s – the last year it is listed in the directories is 1959. By the time the business closed, pizza, described only a few years earlier as simply a popular after- the movie snack, would be common throughout Saginaw County – and the rest of the nation. And, in 1955 Chef Boyardee introduced a kit for easily making pizzas at home – in 1957 Saginaw’s Park & Shop advertised them for 49 cents. Before you start on this week’s assignment, we will close with a reminder that restaurants are more than just places to eat:
“They met while Margret was working at her grandmother’s restaurant – Marge’s Spaghetti House – and Junior stopped in one day to eat.
The former Margaret A. Pignatelli and Junior Fobear were married Nove. 11. 1950 in Saginaw. (The Saginaw News, November 12, 2000.)
*For a history of the Moonlight Garden See our Earlier Castle Cocktail Lounge post.
The Recipe –Pizza Filling
As we do not have a recipe from any of the Saginaw restaurants that were the first to advertise pizza, we are focusing on the recipe that appeared in The Saginaw News on October 10, 1945 – perhaps the earliest pizza recipe to be printed in our community. The article claims that the recipe came from “Riccardo, an Italian restauranter of Chicago, noted for his pizza . . .”
Although we have a feeling that the results will be quite unlike what was served at any of Saginaw’s pioneer pizza restaurants, it is an early version of Americanized pizza.
The recipe as it appears in The Saginaw News:
Pizza Filling (Serves 6)
Two cups canned tomatoes, rubbed through a strainer, ½ finely minced clove garlic, whole onion, 1/8 teaspoon thyme, 1/8 teaspoon rosemary, 1/8 teaspoon basil, bay leaf, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 cups water.
Bring to a boil; then turn heat low and simmer 2 to 3 hours. Remove onion from sauce.
Pizza Refrigerator Dough.** Two cups scalded milk, 2 teaspoons salt, ¼ cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter or fortified margarine, 1 cake compressed yeast, 6 cups of sifted flour, ¼ cup lukewarm water.
Measure milk into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved. Allow milk to cool to lukewarm. Crumble yeast into lukewarm water. When yeast pops to surface, stir until well mixed. Add to lukewarm milk. Add half the flour and all melted butter or margarine. Beat to a smooth batter. Add remaining flour, sufficient to make a dough that is soft, but not sticky.
Turn out on floured bread board and knead until light and springy. Place in a well-greased missing bowl and set in warm (not hot) place to rise to double its bulk. Then cut the dough down with a sharp knife until quite a bit of the gas has escaped and the bulk is reduced. Knead again to form a compact ball of dough. Return to greased bowl. Cover lightly and store in refrigerator.
One hour before using, remove from refrigerator. Knead and cut into six pieces. Flatten each into round, very thin pieces about 9 inches in diameter. Arrange on greased pie pans or layer cake tines. Let rise to double its bulk in a warm (not hot) place. Spread the dough with the prepared filling. Over this scatter finely cut cooked sausage or chopped anchovies, and grated cheese. Bake in a 500 degree oven for 15 minutes. Be sure oven is hot when you start.
Usually each guest eats one pizza a piece, piping hot without knife and fork.
Castle Test Kitchen Notes:
**IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to time constraints, the CTK staff only tested the sauce portion of this recipe. We did not test the pizza refrigerator dough. (Honestly, would you trust someone whose first pizza was a kit, to test a 1947 yeast dough recipe?)
In the United States, our understanding, consumption, and expectations for pizza have changed dramatically since 1945.The focus of this recipe is not to create a perfect pizza – which this is not, but simply to recreate an early version of Americanized pizza. Of course, without resorting to a kit - although tempting.
Cheese: We are little mystified by what type would have been used in Saginaw in 1945. In 1950 Jack Provenzano was listing pizza cheese under one of the hard-to-find items his store, at 1115 W. Genesee, carried.
Sauce: The sauce was quite good - I would add a little more garlic. We regretted not making the effort to make the crust from scratch.If you make this recipe, please be aware the sauce reduces greatly. You will have less than one cup.
As you make this, please keep in mind that this recipe was intended for someone who had never made – and possibly never seen – a pizza.
If you have more information about the history of pizza in Saginaw, or attempt making the dough portion of the recipe, please share your information with us.