Peppes Pizza takes on Norway

The ascent of American pizza

Peppes Pizza

Photo: Peppes Pizza / Wikimedia Commons
With 78 restaurants, the Peppes Pizza brand is known all over Norway.

M. MICHAEL BRADY
Asker, Norway

Peppes Pizza

Photo: Kjetil Ree / Wikimedia Commons
Peppes Pizza on Stortinggate in Oslo is a popular destination for local residents and tourists alike—especially Americans longing for a taste of home.

“Honey, don’t ya think Norwegians would love pizza?” Norwegian Anne asked her American husband, Louis Jordan. Living in Connecticut in the late 1960s, the couple pondered relocating to Norway. Anne had reckoned that pizza had appeal, because Norwegians like bread, cheese, tomatoes, and tomato sauce.

Entrepreneur Louis agreed but wondered how they might earn a living in her home country. So, he set out to acquire pizza expertise by working at the Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven. There he found that the world of pizza is divided into two camps: Italian and American. The essential differences between the two are that an Italian pizza has a thin, light crust with a thin layer of sauce and cheese and is eaten as a snack food or hors d’oeuvre. An American pizza has a thicker, chewier crust, on which more ingredients are piled and is eaten as the main dish of a meal. 

They opted for the American variety, which would be unique across the Atlantic. Soon after, they were on their way, with a business concept, three children, and $10,000, then equal to the U.S. average annual household income. A gas-fired pizza oven followed by sea transport.

In Norway, American pizza, a dish new to the country, needed a few ingredients not sold there at the time, but most of all, mozzarella cheese. Fortunately, they were able to buy it from a Danish cheese factory that supplied pizza mozzarella to purveyors catering to American troops stationed in Germany. 

That led to the opening in May 1970 of the first Peppes Pizza restaurant in a shabby-chic cellar with 12 tables at Solli Plass in Oslo. Two others followed in 1971, one in the Sinsen district of the city, where Anne had grown up, and one on the west end of the city at Frogner Plass, close to the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Business was brisk, so much so at the West End restaurant that, in 1973, a two-stage queue system was initiated, to separate the young crowd from their less boisterous elders.

That success triggered changes in Norwegian eating habits. There now are 78 Peppes Pizza restaurants in Norway. And with frozen heat-it-yourself pizza now commonplace, led by Pizza Grandiosa, pizza has become the country’s favored convenience meal.

See also “Pizza grand in Norway” by Rasmus Falck, The Norwegian American, July 10, 2020 (www.norwegianamerican.com/pizza-grand-in-norway).

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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