Straw Hat Pizza
Who knew that old-fashioned could be so cutting-edge?
In the summer of 1959, most California kids were listening to their favorite tunes and cruising the beaches with their surfboards. Little did they know their lives would soon be changed forever with the opening of the first Straw Hat Pizza (www.strawhatpizza.com) location in San Leandro, California.
Straw Hat was years ahead of its time, using local ingredients for its flaky-crust pies, including California tomatoes for the sauce. Bench seating, movie screenings, free Charlie Horse rides for the kiddies and live banjo bands created a family atmosphere, and the shop’s motto was simple and straightforward: “People-Pleasing Pizza.”
Fueled by menu additions like the salad bar and Hot Hat sandwiches, locations stretched up and down the coast by the ’70s. At the chain’s peak, more than 450 outposts were thriving around the state.
Then, the big boys took notice. Pizza Hut bought out a portion of the chain in the mid-1980s, although many loyal store owners held their ground. Today, with the tagline “Genuine California Pizza,” 58 locations remain, and the chain is once again focusing on growth with the new concepts Straw Hat Express and Straw Hat Grill.
Back in growth mode once more, with plans to open new stores in Canada, the Mid-West, the East Coast and the South, Straw Hat Pizza’s original principles remain intact, and fresh ingredients remain a top priority. Straw Hat was an early leader in the green movement by using locally grown fresh produce from within 150 miles of its stores and controlling its own wheat and tomato fields. “The sauce is now organic,” says company president Jonathan C. Fornaci. “We actually make pizza the same way it was done in 1959, before all the preservatives and artificial stuff were even around.”
Who knew that old-fashioned could be so cutting-edge? —Tracy Morin