As easy as it is to call up a pizza delivery, frozen pizza, to this day, remains the most popular of all frozen foods. Just as what were to become the giant pizza chains, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, and Domino’s were opening their first stores, the first frozen pizzas were already sitting in grocery store freezers. But who was the first to market a frozen pizza? Totino’s stakes a claim, but so does Tombstone. Which one is the true originator? Or, does someone else deserve credit?
Was Totino’s the First Frozen Pizza?
We cannot be precisely sure who marketed the very first frozen pizza. One of the major claimants to the first frozen pizza is Totino’s, which started as Totino’s Italian Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They say they began selling the first frozen pizzas in 1962. Totino’s did become the top-selling pizza brand by the end of the 1960’s, but this does not mean they were the first. Totino’s is now owned by Pillsbury, who bought the company in 1975.
Or, Was Tombstone the First?
Tombstone pizza also claims to be the first. The Tombstone Bar, of Medford, Wisconsin, was owned by the Simek family in the 1960’s. They too, claim to have made the first frozen pizzas in 1962. Although Tombstone has been around for that long, the brand did not become a top seller until the 1990’s, after Kraft Foods bought the brand and launched a hugely successful advertising campaign. You probably remember the commercials where a condemned man was asked “What do you want on your tombstone,” and he replied “Pepperoni and sausage.”
Another major player in frozen pizza is Red Baron frozen pizza, but this brand was not introduced by the Schwan Food Company until 1975. Tony’s frozen pizza came out in 1970.
The True Contender for First Frozen Pizza
There is one other company, however, that was making frozen pizzas before any of these major players. You may be familiar with Celentano frozen pastas from the freezer section of your grocery store. They are famous for a round ravioli, as well as frozen tortellini and other pasta products. The Celentano brothers owned an Italian specialty store in Newark, in 1947. They sold all sorts of Italian goodies, including pastas, cheeses, and meats. They also introduced Celentano frozen pizza in 1957. Rose Totino claims to have invented the frozen pizza in 1962, but it seems the Celentano’s had her beat by five years. Their frozen pizza was square, with break-away slices. Although we cannot be sure if Celentano’s was the first ever frozen pizza, they were almost certainly the first brand to go national. Below is a Celentano’s frozen pizza commercial from 1980:
Today, there is no longer any Celentano Frozen Pizza, but the company remained family owned 2000, when it was purchased by Rosina Food Products, Inc., who still markets Calentano brand premium pastas and entrées. Celentano was never as big a brand in the frozen pizza market at Totino’s.
To give you some historical perspective, the first Pizza Hut open in 1958. The first Little Casar opened in 1959. And, the first Domino’s opened in 1967.