'He was a visionary': Mourners remember Sam Panopoulos the man who put pineapple on your pizza
Panopoulos made a point of helping and hiring other Greek immigrants
About 400 mourners gathered Monday at London's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church to mourn Sam Panopoulos the London, Ont., restaurant owner who — for good or bad — made pineapple a topping option for pizza lovers worldwide.
Panopoulos, 83, died last week at University Hospital. He is survived by two children and his wife Christina, with whom he recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Friends and family filled the church to mourn a man who came to Canada in 1954 with little money in his pocket. Working with his brothers, Panopoulos ran successful restaurants in both London and nearby Chatham.
He was remembered as a great family man, and a stalwart in the Greek community. But it was an act of inspiration back in the early 1960s that will make Panopoulos forever loved by many pizza afficionados.
That's when Panopoulos, working in his restaurant kitchen, added pineapple to pizza. As he hold CBC's As It Happens earlier this year, the menu item was immediately popular.
Though many pizza purists remain disgusted at the idea of a sweet tropical fruit on a spicy, savoury pizza, pineapple is a staple on pizza menus worldwide.
The food fight over pineapple became big news in February, when Iceland's President Guoni Johannesson suggested pineapple does not belong on pizza.
Among those coming to the defence of the pineapple pizza was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recognized this slice of Canadiana in a tweet: "I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation."
Helped other Greek immigrants
The pineapple debate wasn't what mourners who spoke to CBC London wanted to talk about on Monday as they left the church.
They spoke of a family man who went out of his way to help other Greek immigrants struggling to get established in their new country.
"All the newcomers, he was helping them, he was placing them [in jobs], he was embracing them," said friend Basile Hacetoglu, who first met Panopoulos in Chatham back in the 1960s.
Hacetoglu said he wasn't surprised to see his friend's pizza innovation become a staple of one of the world's most popular foods, and the topic of a fierce debate that will likely continue for decades.
"He was a visionary, he was always looking to the future, not the past," said Hacetoglu.
It's the character of his friend Hacetoglu said he will forever remember.
"You cannot forget Sam after you meet him. I bet you even the clients that he received in his business, still remember him. Especially his smile and his laugh. His voice was always resonant."
- An earlier version of this story said that Sam Panopoulos died at his home. In fact, he died at University Hospital in London surrounded by his family.Jun 13, 2017 11:57 AM ET