Pizza Pizza

That time when Pizza Pizza hypnotized Toronto

Happy 50th birthday to the OG Toronto pizza franchise!

From their landmark first store at Parliament and Wellesley, to the invention of a heated delivery bag, advertising on the spines of the Yellow Pages, and that ubiquitous 967-11-11 jingle, Pizza Pizza has always been a hot pie maverick.

Regardless of your feelings about the food, no one can deny Pizza Pizza’s crucial role in mainstreaming pizza culture in Ontario over the last 50 years, peaking with that unforgettable earworm alchemy crafted in the 80s by Pat Withrow and jingle prodigy Mike McCurlie of MJM Media.

Adored by Pizza Pizza founder, brain trust and CEO Michael Overs, this untouchable ditty was unceremoniously dumped by the chain after he passed away in 2010.

Although replaced by a compositionally challenged, clunky melody only slightly blander than some of the pies it's selling, the original remains a legend and the sole reason why everyone remembers their phone number.

A bizarre low-point for the brand came in the 80s with the "Shirley" TV spots. Besides the fuzzy no-budget vibe and irritating, "Know what I mean, Vern?" character, these commercials never bothered to actually show any pizza.

Surely that was an huge oversight? This is a failure at advertising 101 level, despite its intentions to tap into working class Toronto. 

Things got back on track in '89 with a series of ads which really emphasized Pizza Pizza's home grown Ontario roots — the farm fresh ingredients, and the "timing" of the title, 30 minutes or free.

Also, the essential family angle ("the family who graze together stays together") appears in both of these spots, as does actual pizza!

For some context of the times, here's a truly atrocious 1989 pizza commercial from Buffalo that Toronto people saw courtesy of WUTV 29. There's simply so much wrong here that it's actually a masterpiece of error, and it makes the Pizza Pizza spots look Kubrickian by comparison.

Pizza Pizza's current advertising consists mostly of radio spots pitched by their chief marketing officer Pat Finelli.

These could double up as a drinking game — take a shot whenever Finelli uses the word "fresh" — but long gone are the days of their strange TV commercials, the promise of free pizza if it took more than 30 minutes, and the original ear worming intonation of that phone number.

Toronto is now awash in franchised pizza houses: Pizza Nova, Pizzaiolo, Papa Johns, Dominos, et al have taken a large bite out of Pizza Pizza’s market share, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the city (or the province) who doesn’t know that killer jingle inside and out.

Happy birthday, Pizza Pizza, hey hey hey!

Ed Conroy’s Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.

Lead photo by

Gary Wood


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