You might get a few blank stares when you request one on the mainland, but they’re a cultural icon for the islanders. They are so loved that a couple recently offered them as a late-night snack at their wedding.
Allen Rankin grew up in southwest Mabou, but now lives and works in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
He and his fiancee Rachel Johnson had planned to get married in Cape Breton, but when things changed Rankin decided to bring a little bit of the island to Ontario.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we got pizza burgers? “” Said Rankin, whose nuptials were scheduled to take place on Saturday in Prince Township.
“Rachel tried them on when we were at home and she said, ‘Yeah, we could. “”
A unique treat
Johnson, who grew up in Ontario, had never heard of a pizza burger before a trip to Nova Scotia three years ago.
“Allen said, ‘You have to try this,’” she said. “I think we went to her parents and said ‘Hello’ to her, then we went straight to Freshmart for a burger pizza. “
The prepackaged snack is usually pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, tomato-based pizza sauce, and a sesame seed bun. In Cape Breton, pizza burgers are most often refrigerated and sold at local gas stations and convenience stores.
The couple reached out to Paul’s Food Factory in Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia, which makes the pizza burgers, to see if 100 of the bagged treats could be made for their special day.
Company owner Jennifer Price-Sheppard not only took the order, but personalized the packaging to include the couple’s names and their wedding date. Rankin’s parents planned to bring the pizza burgers to Ontario.
Price-Sheppard said it wasn’t the first time an engaged couple had asked for the favor.
“People grew up with them,” she said.
Company founder Paul Price began making submarine sandwiches for his own convenience store in 1982.
This was out of necessity, as another supplier had stopped showing up at regular intervals. The workers at the Whitney Pier steelworks at the time were hungry.
He started by making the sandwiches in the evening and taking them to local stores in the family station wagon. The pizza burger would soon follow, and within three years, Price was selling his products across the island.
“Customers would line up for them sometimes,” said Price, who eventually closed his convenience store to focus on ready meals.
At one point, Paul’s Food Factory supplied its pizza burgers to 300 stores on the island, but with so many stores closing, they’re now down to about half that number.
Price-Sheppard said she and her father never changed the recipe, but last year they were forced to temporarily change some ingredients when COVID-19 interfered with their regular supply of pepperoni.
“Sales have dropped drastically,” Price said. “We were nervous. It was an uproar. “
Price-Sheppard said he sent a letter to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality asking the mayor and council to consider making pizza burgers the official food of the region.
A similar statement was made to the donair in Halifax about six years ago.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall said she is beginning the process of proclaiming Paul’s Food Factory pizza burgers as the town’s official food as the company celebrates its 40th anniversary.
“You can go anywhere in Canada, and if you’re from Cape Breton you know what a pizza burger is,” Price-Sheppard said.
Rankin said it was difficult to determine exactly what he liked so much about the snack.
“I used to eat these things like five days a week,” he said. “There’s probably a bit of nostalgia there. “
The couple planned to borrow three or four microwaves to allow guests to eat the pizza burgers properly.
“You have to punch a hole in the bag and then put it in the microwave for 30 seconds or something,” Rankin said.
“The cheese melts just right. Give it a second to cool down so you don’t burn your palate, which I’ve done a thousand times. “
The couple said they were unsure how their family and friends outside Cape Breton might react to their late-night feast.
“It was kind of trying to give the wedding a little Cape Breton flavor,” Rankin said.