Odessans appreciated the novelty: it was possible to stand in a queue for more than an hour to get a pizza.
Pizza is an Italian national dish in the form of a round open flatbread, covered in the classic version with tomatoes and melted cheese (mozzarella). Historically, pizza was a meal for the poor: in their ordinary life of Southern Italians (the Northerners had “polenta”), they made a dough cake for eating, in which they put tomatoes and cheese, the cheapest food available. Then, they started to add other ingredients, creating other types of pizza. Those who lived by the sea started to prepare pizza with seafood, others living in the interior with mushrooms, the richer with ham.
In August 1984, in house number 2 of “1905” Square (today, Tiraspolskaya), in the premises of a former “Blinnaya” (pancakes shop), a very unusual canteen was opened by Soviet standards. Inside it was a typical self-service cafe, but they served there a foreign dish: pizza.
… Now you don’t recognise an old cafe, a former seedy “catering point”. The modern interior of the hall, curiously executed by artists and builders, creates a cosy, festive atmosphere for visitors. It is so pleasant to sit here at the beautiful polished tables. But the main pleasure is in what you eat.Znamya Kommunizma, August 1, 1984.
The new cafe immediately attracted many customers. Old-timers remember the huge queues in which they could stand for an hour, especially at lunchtime.
The hall accommodated about 80 people and was decorated, as they wrote on the Odessa Evening, in “bright red and black colours.” There was not enough space, and people often expected an empty seat with trays in hand. Then, they created a cafeteria in the hall, where they sold juices, tea and coffee and the famous krill baskets. In Soviet times, alcohol was not sold in cafes. Only in the 90s a license to sell alcohol was obtained.
In the article “Cafe in Italian” on the newspaper Odessa Evening, on September 13, 1984, the head of production Raisa Trofimovna Kharchenko said that the chefs had visited before Simferopol, the very first pizzeria in the USSR (the second pizzeria was opened a little later in Moscow), where they adopted the experience of the local chefs, who directly developed the recipe for the unusual dough. It is noteworthy that this pizzeria in Crimea is still working.
What did that first pizza taste like? Unfortunately, we were unable to find out its original recipe. Only in the article “Let’s go to the Pizzeria” in the newspaper Znamya Kommunizma there is a very approximate description:
So, what is pizza? In short, these are minced meat, tomatoes, herbs, Dutch cheese baked in dough. And all this in a spicy garlic sauce.
The Soviet pizza there was like a fluffy bun (unlike modern pizza, with dry and hard dough). Sadly, they report that, sometimes, this pizza caused stomach aches, because fresh food was often stolen, and past due one was put on the pizza, instead of being thrown away. Workers in the Soviet administration could not help stealing.
In 1984, upon opening, the cafe offered three types of pizza: with beef – 52 kopecks (roughly 1 euro, today), squid – 36 kopecks, and with eggs – 32 kopecks. A little later, pizza with chicken meat was also added – 50 kopecks. In addition to pizza, the menu also included broth, seasonal salads and snacks. Usually they took two pizzas per customer, but for children or women who were losing weight, one was enough.
Foreign guests also came to the pizzeria, Italians included, although it didn’t look like what they used to eat at home (Italians never put chicken or beef meet on the pizza). In general, foreigners were frequent visitors to the pizzeria. In the first month of operation, the productivity of the cafe increased by 130%. For some reasons, the plans to open several more similar cafes were abandoned.
One of the former employees of the pizzeria said: “We worked from eight in the morning until nine in the evening. The queues were constant. To prepare the first batch for the opening, the girls-cooks came at six in the morning, and the break was from three to four”.
The building that housed the Pizzeria was built in 1881 by architects Klein and Veitko. At the beginning of the XXth century, in its place there was the famous Dietman cafe of Odessa. The establishment was publicly mentioned in 1906 in an advertisement: “Confectionery and cafe P. Ditman, Tiraspolskaya, corner Nizhyn. The confectionery has a luxurious veranda“.
In the middle of the twentieth century, the building housed a culinary store and vending machines, then the Blinnaya cafe. And in the sixties, an episode of Kira Muratova‘s well known film “Short Meetings” (1968) was filmed in the cafe.
At the same time, the writer Yuri Olesha recalled in The Book of Farewell: “I heard the sound of a bomb that was thrown by an anarchist in Ditman’s cafe in Odessa in 1905. All frightenedly looked at each other at that moment: me, grandmother, dad, mom, sister, acquaintances. The sound, which at first quickly flew upward, then began to settle and expand, as it were.”
After the collapse of the USSR, the pizzeria was closed. The building was abandoned for many years, until it was demolished and a new one was built in its place.