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A Global Food   
Do you recognize the flags on this pizza?

www.petrovvladimir.ru/Shutterstock.com (Pizza); hans.slegers/Shutterstock.com (Italy); sonia.eps/Shutterstock.com (USA)

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How Pizza Came to America

Frank Mastro helped turn an Italian dish into an American classic. So why have you never heard of him? 

    It was the early 1930s, and the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression. Millions of people didn’t have jobs. Families were starving. 

    In New York City, Frank Mastro saw his community of Italian Americans struggling. Mastro owned a shop that sold restaurant supplies. He knew there must be something he could do to help. But what?

    And then an idea came to him.

    Pizza!

    It was the early 1930s. The United States was going through the Great Depression. Millions of people didn’t have jobs. Families were starving. 

    Frank Mastro lived in New York City. He lived in an Italian-American neighborhood. He saw his neighbors struggling. Mastro owned a shop. He sold restaurant supplies. He wanted to help his neighbors. But how?

    Then he had an idea.

    Pizza!

    It was the early 1930s, and the United States was suffering through the Great Depression. Millions of people were out of work, and families were starving. 

    In New York City, Frank Mastro witnessed the struggles his community of Italian Americans faced. Mastro, who owned a shop that sold restaurant supplies, knew he had to find a way to help. But how?

    And then inspiration struck.

    Pizza!

Pizza Problems

    Today, America eats more pizza than any other country—350 slices per second! But in the 1930s, most people in the U.S. had never heard of it. Pizza was sold only in Italian bakeries and grocery stores. 

    Mastro had come to New York with his family when he was 10. He remembered the delicious pizzas he ate as a kid in Italy. These crisp circles of dough were topped with tangy tomatoes and gooey cheese. He knew that if more Americans tasted pizza, they would love it.

    But Mastro believed pizza was more than just a tasty treat. He thought pizza could save his community. Running a pizzeria would be a way for families to make money. Plus, pizza would be a perfect cheap option to eat for dinner!

    There was one problem, though. Making pizza was a total pain.

    Today, Americans eat 350 slices of pizza per second! That’s more than in any other country. But in the 1930s, most Americans had not heard of pizza. It was sold only in Italian bakeries and grocery stores. But nowhere else.

    Mastro had come to New York when he was 10. His family came from Italy. He remembered eating pizza back home. The baked circles of dough were topped with tomatoes and cheese. He wanted more Americans to taste pizza. He knew they would love it.

    Mastro also thought pizza could help his neighbors. They could make money selling it. And it would be a cheap dinner.

    There was one problem. Making pizza was not easy!

    Today, America consumes more pizza than any other country—350 slices per second! But in the 1930s, the majority of people in the U.S. had never heard of it. Only Italian bakeries and grocery stores sold pizza. 

    Mastro had come to New York with his family when he was 10, and he remembered the delicious pizzas he enjoyed as a kid in Italy. He strongly believed that if more Americans tasted the crisp circles of dough topped with tangy tomatoes and gooey cheese, they would love them.

    However, Mastro recognized that pizza was more than just a delicious treat—it could help save his community. Families could make money by running pizzerias, and they could save money by choosing pizza as a cheap dinner option!

    There was one problem: Making pizza was a major hassle.

The Pizza King

    In the 1930s, pizza was baked in a huge oven the size of an elephant. These ovens were heated with coal. They took hours to get hot. And a baker had to constantly watch over the pizza. Otherwise, it might burst into flames.

    To make his pizza dreams come true, Mastro knew what he needed to do. He needed to invent a better oven. 

    After a few months, Mastro’s new oven was ready. It was powered by cheap gas. It baked multiple pizzas in minutes. And anyone could use it. Perfect!

    Except when Mastro tried to sell his ovens, no one wanted to buy one. Italian bakers said pizza wouldn’t taste right if it wasn’t made the usual way—in a coal oven.

    Mastro was frustrated. But he didn’t give up. Instead, he opened Frank Mastro’s Model Pizzeria. There, a chef made pizzas in front of a huge window for all to see. Mastro invited anybody to come in and try a slice. Before long, business was booming.

    Mastro did more than just sell ovens. He also helped hundreds of families start their own pizzerias. He gave them the recipe for perfect pies. Sometimes he even let people borrow money to get their businesses up and running. 

    Over the next 20 years, the number of pizzerias in America went from 500 to 20,000. And Mastro became known as “The Pizza King.” 

    In the 1930s, pizza was baked in a huge oven. The ovens were the size of an elephant. They were heated with coal. They took hours to get hot. A baker had to watch the pizza as it baked or it might catch on fire.

    Mastro knew what to do. He had to invent a better oven. 

    Mastro built his oven. It was powered by gas. It baked pizzas quickly. Anyone could use it. Perfect!

    However, no one would buy the oven. Italian bakers said the pizza wouldn’t taste right. They said it had to be made in a coal oven.

    Mastro was frustrated. But he didn’t give up. He opened Frank Mastro’s Model Pizzeria. A pizzeria is a restaurant that serves pizza. At Mastro’s pizzeria, a chef made the pizzas in front of a window. People could watch. Mastro let them try a slice. Soon, business was booming.

    Mastro helped hundreds of families start pizzerias. He sold them his new oven. He gave them his pizza recipe. He even lent some of them money to get started.  

    Over the next 20 years, the number of pizzerias in America rose. It went from 500 to 20,000. Mastro became known as “The Pizza King.”  

    At the time, pizza was baked in an enormous oven the size of an elephant. These ovens were heated with coal and took hours to get hot. A baker had to constantly watch over the pizza or it might burst into flames.

    To make his pizza dreams come true, Mastro realized that he needed to invent a better oven. 

    Within a few months, Mastro had designed and built a new oven that was powered by inexpensive gas. It baked multiple pizzas in minutes, and anyone could use it. Perfect!

    However, when Mastro tried to sell his oven, Italian bakers weren’t interested. They said pizza wouldn’t taste right if it wasn’t made the traditional way—in a coal oven.

    Mastro was frustrated, but he didn’t give up. Instead, he opened Frank Mastro’s Model Pizzeria, where a chef made pizzas in front of a huge window for all to observe. Mastro invited anybody to come  in and sample a slice, and before long his business was booming.

    But selling ovens wasn’t the end of it. Mastro also helped hundreds of families establish their own pizzerias. He shared his recipe for perfect pies with them. Sometimes he even lent people money to help them get their businesses up and running. 

    Over the next 20 years, the number of pizzerias in America soared from 500 to 20,000. Mastro was given the nickname “The Pizza King.” 

Bettmann/Getty Images (Line); Courtesy of the Mastro Family (Oven)

Frank mastro’s pizza plan 
Left: People line up for free food during the Great Depression.
Above: Mastro makes pizza in the oven he invented. He hoped pizza could be a cheap dinner option for struggling families.

All-American Food

    By the time Mastro died in 1957, pizza could be found all over the East Coast. That’s when Frank’s son, Vinnie, took over the family business. But Vinnie died suddenly in 1965—and the Mastro business died with him. Soon, the family name was forgotten.

    Still, Mastro’s legacy lives on. Nearly anywhere you go in America today, you can find pizza.

    You can grab a thin-crust slice in New York City for $2.75. In Chicago, you can dig into a deep-dish pie with mozzarella and sausage. In Detroit, you can enjoy a rectangular slice with the tomato sauce on top of the cheese.

    “My father used to say that pizza would become as popular as the hot dog,” Mastro’s daughter Madeline said. “Nobody believed him. Now I say, ‘Do you see, Dad? You were right.’”

    Mastro died in 1957. By then, pizza was sold all over the East Coast. Frank’s son, Vinnie, took over the business. Vinnie died in 1965. The business died too. Soon the family name was forgotten.

    But Mastro’s legacy lives on. Today, you can find pizza almost anywhere in America. 

    In New York City, you can buy thin-crust pizza. A slice costs just $2.75. Chicago has deep-dish pizza. In Detroit, you can buy pizza with the sauce on top of the cheese.

    “My father used to say that pizza would become as popular as the hot dog,” Mastro’s daughter Madeline said. “Nobody believed him. Now I say, ‘Do you see, Dad? You were right.’” 

    By the time Mastro passed away in 1957, people could buy pizza all over the East Coast. Frank’s son, Vinnie, took over the family business, but he died suddenly in 1965—and the family business died with him. Soon, the Mastro name was forgotten.

    Still, Mastro’s legacy lives on—nearly anywhere you go in America today, you can find pizza.

    You can grab a thin-crust slice in New York City for $2.75. In Chicago, you can dig into a deep-dish pie with mozzarella and sausage. In Detroit, you can enjoy a rectangular slice with the tomato sauce on top of the cheese.

    “My father used to say that pizza would become as popular as the hot dog,” Mastro’s daughter Madeline said. “Nobody believed him. Now I say, ‘Do you see, Dad? You were right.’” 

Sushi Takes Over

How a Japanese businessman got Americans to eat raw fish 

photobeps/Shutterstock.com (Fishes); gresei/Shutterstock.com (Chopsticks); Rido/Shutterstock.com (Sushi)

    In 1964, Japanese businessman Noritoshi Kanai [kuh-NYE] arrived in Los Angeles, California. He knew he could be a success in America. He just needed to convince Americans to fall in love with sushi—a Japanese dish of raw fish and sticky rice.

    There was one problem, though: Most Americans thought raw fish was gross. 

    But the 1960s were a time of change. Faster, cheaper air travel meant more Americans could visit faraway countries. These travelers came home with a taste for “exotic” foods. 

    Kanai thought the time was right to put sushi on American plates. So he went to a Japanese restaurant owner in L.A. with his big idea: Add a sushi bar. A sushi bar is a place where people can order sushi and watch the chef make it. 

    At first, the owner was sure no one would come. But word got out. Japanese people flocked to the sushi bar. And they brought their American friends with them. Soon, sushi restaurants opened in L.A., New York City, and Chicago. 

    Today, you can find sushi just about anywhere in the U.S. Many places have even put their own spin on it. The California roll uses avocado instead of raw tuna. The Philadelphia roll combines cream cheese, smoked salmon, and cucumber. 

    Kanai died in 2017 at age 94. But before his death, he proudly walked the streets of L.A. The city now has more than 3,800 sushi restaurants. 

    His dream had come true.

    In 1964, Noritoshi Kanai [kuh-NYE] moved to Los Angeles, California. He came from Japan. He was a businessman. He knew he could succeed in America. He would sell sushi. That’s a Japanese dish made of raw fish and sticky rice.

    There was one problem. Most Americans thought raw fish was gross. 

    But in the 1960s, air travel got cheaper. More Americans visited faraway countries. These travelers came home wanting to eat “exotic” foods. 

    Kanai thought the time was right to sell sushi. He went to the owner of a Japanese restaurant in L.A. He told him his big idea. He wanted the restaurant to add a sushi bar. At a sushi bar, you can order sushi. You can then watch the chef make it. 

    The owner thought no one would come. But Japanese people flocked to the sushi bar. They brought their American friends. Soon other sushi restaurants opened in L.A. They opened in New York City and Chicago too. 

    Today, you can find sushi all over the U.S. 

    Many places make it their own way. The California roll has avocado instead of raw fish. The Philadelphia roll has cream cheese, smoked salmon, and cucumber. 

    Kanai died in 2017. He was 94. Before his death, he proudly walked through L.A. The city now has more than 3,800 sushi restaurants.

    His dream had come true.

    In 1964, Noritoshi Kanai [kuh-NYE], a businessman from Japan, arrived in Los Angeles, California. He had big plans to become a success in America. He just needed to convince Americans to fall in love with sushi—a Japanese dish made of raw fish and sticky rice.

    Kanai faced one problem—most Americans thought eating raw fish was gross. 

    However, the 1960s was an era of great change. Faster, cheaper air travel meant more Americans could visit faraway countries, and these travelers came home with a taste for “exotic” foods. 

    Kanai thought the time was right to put sushi on American plates. So he went to a Japanese restaurant owner in L.A. with his big idea: Add a sushi bar. A sushi bar is a place where people can order sushi and watch the chef prepare it. 

    At first, the owner doubted that anyone would show up. But word spread, and Japanese people flocked to the sushi bar, bringing their American friends with them. Soon, sushi restaurants popped up in L.A., New York City, and Chicago. 

    Today, sushi is available just about anywhere in the U.S. Many places have put their own spin on the dish. The California roll uses avocado instead of raw tuna. The Philadelphia roll combines cream cheese, smoked salmon, and cucumber. 

    In 2017, Kanai died at age 94. But before his death, he proudly walked the streets of L.A., spotting many of the more than 3,800 sushi restaurants the city is now home to.

    His dream had come true. 

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