Cheesy, saucy and savoury — nothing tastes quite like a Cape Breton pizza burger.
You might get a few blank stares when asking for one on the mainland, but they are a cultural icon for people on the island.
They’re so well loved, that one couple recently gave them away 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 fiancée Rachel Johnson had been planning 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 get pizza burgers?'” said Rankin, whose nuptials were set to take place Saturday in Prince Township.
“Rachel tried them when we were home and she said, ‘Yes, we could do that.'”
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 was like, ‘You have to try these,'” she said. “I think we went to his parents and said ‘Hello’ and then we went directly to the Freshmart for a pizza burger.”
The pre-packaged snack is typically made of pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, a 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, N.S., which makes the pizza burgers, to see if 100 of the bagged treats could be made for their special day.
The company’s 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 drive the pizza burgers to Ontario.
Price-Sheppard said it was not the first time an engaged couple had asked for the favour.
“People just grew up with them,” she said.
Company founder Paul Price started making submarine sandwiches for his own convenience store in 1982.
It came out of necessity, as another supplier had stopped showing up at regular intervals. Workers from the steel mill in Whitney Pier at the time were hungry.
He began by making the sandwiches at night and bringing them to local stores in the family’s station wagon. The pizza burger would soon follow, and within three years, Price was selling his products across the island.
“The customers lined up for them sometimes,” said Price, who eventually closed his convenience store to focus on the ready-made meals.
At one time, Paul’s Food Factory was supplying 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 both she and her father never changed the recipe, but last year they were forced to temporarily switch up some ingredients when COVID-19 interfered with their regular pepperoni supply.
“Sales dropped drastically,” said Price. “We were nervous. It was an uproar.”
Price-Sheppard said she 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 declaration was given to the donair in Halifax about six years ago.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall said she’s beginning the process of proclaiming Paul’s Food Factory pizza burgers as the official food of the municipality as the business celebrates its 40th year.
“You can go anywhere across Canada, and if you’re from Cape Breton, you know what a pizza burger is,” Price-Sheppard said.
Rankin said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he loves so much about the snack.
“I used to eat those things like five days a week,” he said. “There’s probably a bit of nostalgia to it.”
The couple were planning to borrow three or four microwaves to allow guests to eat the pizza burgers the proper way.
“You’ve got to poke a hole in the bag and then you put it in the microwave for 30 seconds or something like that,” said Rankin.
“The cheese is just melting just right. Give it a second to cool off so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth, which I’ve done a thousand times.”
The couple said they weren’t quite sure how their family and friends from outside Cape Breton might react to their late-night feast.
“It was kind of trying to give the wedding a little bit of a Cape Breton flavour,” said Rankin.