An 80 Year Old Innovation From Another Industry
As time progresses I am hoping to cover all aspects of innovation. Although I am an engineer by vocation and training, I think it is very important to observe innovation in other industries. In later newsletters, I will be sharing stories of how some of my outside interests helped spark innovation on products I have worked on.
This week, I am going to focus on an innovation outside of the tech industry because most people associate innovation with technology only. If you were to ask people to name an innovative company they would probably list such companies as Google, Tesla, and Apple. However, innovation can apply to any industry, even pizza.
Continuing, this week's innovation story is about an innovation that occurred over 80 years ago. More specifically an innovation that started multiple businesses and kept them in business for next 80 years and still going! In fact multiple generations of the same families have kept these businesses thriving into the modern era.
It all started with a business need, and a very simple one. In an area known as Boston's South Shore there was once a multitude of factories in a nearby city, Brockton. These factories produced shoes and employed thousands of people. When the worker's shift ended, the local bar rooms' business day began.
When the workers left the factory for the day they were both thirsty for an ice cold beer, but also hungry for hot food. This created an interesting problem for the bar rooms:
How to serve hot food that was easy to prepare, and could be handled by the bartender at the same time he was slinging drinks. This same hot food had to pair well with a cold beer. (After all, selling beer was the bar's main interest.)
Thus the conditions for an innovation were in place. Pizza was quickly becoming a popular restaurant food, but it was also labor intensive to produce. The South Shore Bar Pizza (SSBP) was the innovation that solved the problem. Unlike an ordinary pizza the SSBP:
Used pans to pre-form the pizza into 10 inch pies.
The pizza dough didn't need to be stretched, instead the dough was spread to the edges of pan thus saving on labor costs.
The flavor profile factored in the bar's primary business, serving beer. Instead of using mozzarella mix for the cheese, the pizza instead used sharp cheddar cheese. Cheddar pairs well with beer, and happens to be a bit on the salty side. A win win if the bar wants to sell more beer.
Because the pizzas were pan prepped, the pizzas could be pre-prepped and put into the refrigerator in stacks. The bartender simply had to pull one out when the order came and toss it into a high temperature pizza oven for about 10 minutes. (An acceptable wait time for hot food in a bar room.)
If the patron wanted a pizza to take home to the family, the bartender simply dropped the pizza into a cardboard plate. He then placed a second plate upside down on top of the pizza to cover it. The last step was to slide the paper plate into a plain brown paper bag and wrap it tightly. Simple, easy, and effective. Brown bags were cheap. Plates were something the bar already had.
The pizza was an immediate hit with the factory workers, but something unexpected happened, it became a local cult favorite that outlasted the factories. .A single spark of innovation has allowed multiple families to run successfully businesses for multiple generations. These businesses each have a loyal following, and in many cases have patrons that span multiple decades, and multiple generations of their families as well. For example:
The Cape Code Cafe in Brockton, MA has been open since 1939.
The Lynwood Cafe in Randolph, MA has been open since 1948.
Hoey's Pizza in Randolph, MA has been open since 1953.
Note: In the modern era, additional new restaurants are opening in the South Shore area that serve this pizza style. Amazingly, restaurants are slowly opening in other areas of the country. (More on this in a future newsletter.)
But the story gets even more interesting. In a world of Dominoes, Papa Johns, and Pizza Hut this pizza is in a unique class of its own:
The multitude of restaurants that make this style rarely or never advertise. (They don't need to.) Wait times on a Friday night can be in the hours.
The Facebook group devoted to the South Shore Bar Pizza has over 40,000 members and is still growing. Membership spans across the country.
Making the pizza requires special equipment, a pan, that is only sold by one business that is run by a single family across multiple generations.
The pizza is sometimes sold in venues that are unmarked inside of other buildings and are only known by word of mouth
Many times the purveyors of this cult favorite only transact in cash. Yes, cash only restaurants!
But the innovation doesn't end there. The 10 inch pans to make the pizza are sold by just one company, and the pans often go out of stock. The pans provide the exact correct surface to make the pizza. But interestingly enough, as the pans age, they become more valuable. As the pans are used over decades to make pizzas they become "seasoned" and contribute to the flavor profile of the pizza. These seasoned pans are highly coveted. In a few cases, restaurants will sell their older pans -- for a price.
But how does it taste? The short answer: unlike any other pizza. The longer answer is that a South Shore Bar Pizza (SSBP) has a personality all of its own:
It is always 10 inches. (Based on the pan size.)
It has a buttery cracker crust due to the high fat content in the cheese.
It tends to be crispy and has low flop.
It has something called "lacing" or "burnt edges" as both the cheese and sauce were put to the edges of the pan, they often singe. This also helps increase the flavor profile.
In short - a simple business need resulted in two sparks of innovation, a new kind of pizza, and a specialty pizza pan. Both businesses have flourished and have kept multiple families employed for multiple generations. Not bad for an 80 year old idea!
Innovation can occur in any industry at any time. And some innovation will stand the test of time. No matter which industry an innovation comes from, its story can always help inspire us.
Quick Note: Although I have tried to be as accurate as possible, much of the history of this innovation has been handed down orally. There will be discrepancies as people's recollections do vary.
For Further information on this old school culinary innovation:
About Mark Ross
Mark holds multiple industry patents. He is currently the technical director at an iGaming company based out of Las Vegas. He is the author of books, technical whitepapers, and an accomplished film director as well. Linked In.