Red's Savoy Pizza / Facebook
Food & Ingredients

Does Minnesota Really Have Its Own Pizza Style?

Founded in 1965, Red's Savoy Pizza started marketing its pies, featuring a "passive-aggressive" sauce, as a unique regional style in 2017.

The cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger isn’t Minnesota’s only culinary innovation: Red’s Savoy Pizza, with more than 20 locations, says it’s on a mission to “rid the world of wimpy, skimpy pizzas” with what the chain calls Minnesota-style or ‘Sota-style pizza.

Red’s Savoy says it’s been serving up ‘Sota-style pizza since 1965, although the company didn’t start using that marketing term for it until 2017. According to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, that was the year Red’s rebranded itself to make the style a unique selling proposition.

So your first question is probably, what the heck does ‘Sota-style pizza mean? And your next question might be, is it a truly distinctive style?

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The jury’s still out on question No. 2, but, as to the first, the style is described as a thin-crust pizza, cut into squares, and heavy on the cheese and toppings. What seems to make it a one-of-a-kind “style” is the secret-recipe sauce, which Red’s terms “passive-aggressive.” We’re not sure what that means, but the chain’s website touts the sauce as “Minnesota nice.”

“Appearing to be simple sweet savory-ness (which it is), you may be surprised it has a bit of a kick (which it does),” the site notes.

The bloggers for Homemade Pizza School were apparently able to wrangle a little more detail about the sauce. They compared it to a Detroit-style sauce, adding, “The owners explain that the sauce starts with a sweetness that leads into savory, with a bit of a kick at the end.”

But are we really talking about a one-of-a-kind pizza style? Not everyone thinks so. Andrew Zimmern, who hosted “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel, has lived in the Twin Cities for 20-plus years. When Kevin Pang, writing for The Takeout, asked him if there was really such a thing as Minnesota-style pizza, the outspoken Zimmern replied with two words, one of which was unprintable and the other simply “no.”

Still, Minnesota-style pizza is more than just clever marketing. Red’s Savoy’s take on the classic thin-crust pie has spread across the region. On Discover the Cities, a digital guide to Minneapolis and St. Paul, a writer identified as Sean P. says pizza fans in the Twin Cities “immediately recognize this description.”

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here are three Minnesota-style pizzas on platters, each with a thick layer of cheese on top and various meat and veggie toppings
Red’s Savoy Pizza / Facebook

“The thin-crust, square-cut pizza with a mountain of toppings/cheese is as stereotypically Minnesotan as cold winter days, Paul Bunyon’s axe, and dare I say…the Juicy Lucy,” Sean P. writes. “For whatever reason, it’s become the preferred style of local pizza shops” in the Twin Cities, the writer adds.

Speaking of the Juicy Lucy, PMQ has previously reported that another distinctly Minnesota-style pizza emerged—albeit for a limited time only—in 2018, not from the kitchen of Red Savoy’s but from the Chicago deep-dish chain Giordano’s. At its Minneapolis store, Giordano’s took inspiration from the Juicy Lucy burger to create—you guessed it—the Juicy Lucy Pizza. The Minneapolis Star Tribune described the pie like this:

“Pizza dough lines the bottom of a deep-dish pan and is covered in one pound of ground beef that’s been mixed with ketchup and mustard. The meat layer is topped with caramelized onions, followed by sliced American cheese and shredded mozzarella. In total, it’s a pound of cheese. Then, another layer of dough making a ‘lid’ for the pie is slathered in a butter/margarine blend—no sauce. The whole thing is baked for 30 minutes in a 450-degree oven. When it’s done, it’s topped with a chopped salad of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, all tossed with a creamy dressing.”

But the Juicy Lucy Pizza went away at the end of 2018. Red’s Savoy’s ‘Sota-style pizza endures as the creation of the chain’s founder, Red Schoenheider. As the Pioneer Press has reported, Schoenheider bought the Savoy Inn in 1965 and then took over Sorini’s Pizza next door a few years later. He quickly started tweaking the sausage and, more importantly, the sauce. After Schoenheider died in 2017, his daughter, Cindy Cockriel, shared her childhood memories of making pizzas with her dad. Even then, it was clear that quantity of toppings mattered as much as quality to her father. She remembered him yelling at her, “Come on, put some more toppings on it! I wanna make a living, not a killing!”

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