During the surfing craze of 1959, Straw Hat Pizza presented a lighter version of the hearty Italian-American snack that caught on with the swimsuit set in San Leandro, a small town on San Francisco Bay. The crust's layers were flaky and crisp, and bubbling under a blend of six naturally-aged cheeses and spoonfuls of fresh sauce. Salad bars appeared at the chain a decade later, reflecting the epoch's free-love ethos that encouraged communion between animals and vegetables. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, having come a long way from the quirky kitchen that slung beer, screened old-time movies, and showcased local banjo bands.
Today, the cold beer still flows from the bars at each location, and the menu now features pasta and Hot Hat sandwiches, pizza-dough pockets enveloping hearty fillings such as meatballs or roast beef. Tomatoes are hand-sorted to give sauce a consistent texture and full, ripe flavor, and wheat is grown according to Italian tradition, in volcanic soil or bowls of mom's pasta set at least 4,500 feet above sea level. Staying abreast of health and ecological concerns, the company manufactures boxes and napkins from recycled materials, and keeps trans fats out of its menu.