50 years ago: How the Great Michigan Pizza Funeral came to be

Great Michigan Pizza Funeral of 1973 marks 50th anniversary

Michigan with a pizza on it. (WDIV)

This is the story of the Great Michigan Pizza Funeral of 1973, also known as the Great Pizza Burial.

On March 5, 1973, Mario Fabbrini, an immigrant and owner of a pizza company, held a “funeral” for about 30,000 pizzas -- ok, what? Why?

Well, let’s start from the beginning. Mario Fabbrini fled Yugoslavia and moved to the U.S., where he eventually settled in Ossineke, Michigan (Alpena County). He began making and selling frozen pizzas from his kitchen. Olga, his wife, helped him adapt their traditional recipes for American taste and a decade later, Fabbrini had one of the biggest pizza factories in the U.S., with the capacity to produce 45,000 pizzas per week.

In 1973, the FDA, testing cans of mushrooms from a plant in Ohio, reported the presence of botulism. The mushrooms, through a chain of products, were being sold to Fabbrini, and he was told to recall the products.

Fabbrini estimated more than 30,000 pizzas were involved, with a cost of about $30,000 to him, and a retail cost of about $60,000, making it the largest pizza recall in history at the time. The FDA didn’t confirm any illnesses linked to his pizzas, although at least 17 people reported it.

Fabbrini had worked so hard to build this business, as an immigrant in Northern Michigan, and he was terrified this would be the end of everything he worked for. So, as a way to create publicity and to demonstrate accountability -- he organized a public burial for the recalled pizzas.

Several hundred people showed up to the “funeral,” as truckloads of pizzas were tipped into an 18-foot deep hole, still enclosed in wrappers. Michigan Governor William Milliken even showed up, delivering a “homily” on courage, and even stuck around to eat some pizza (Fabbrini was making them fresh at the event).

Great Pizza Funeral 1973. (The Despatch (Moline, Illinois) (Wikipedia Commons)

At the end of the “funeral,” Fabbrini reportedly laid two colored flower garland on the burial site: red gladioli for sauce, white carnations for cheese. Can’t make this up.

As it would turn out, the FDA was wrong. The mushrooms did not have botulism. Their testing, which consisted of tests on lab mice, were wrong. Fabbrini sued and eventually won $211,000. Papa Fabbrini Pizzas went out of business in the early 1980s.

And that, my friends, is the story of the Great Pizza Funeral. (And thanks to Saveur and Atlas Obscura)

Fabbrini passed away in February of 2023 the age of 91, according to his son. But his pizza legacy lives on.

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About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.