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Pizzas from Heaven in Havana

Every time it rains it rains
Pizzas from heaven.
Don't you know each box contains
Pizzas from heaven.
You'll find those pizzas falling
All over town.
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

Click to enlarge

That's paraphrasing a great lyric sung by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and that's how it is in Cuba's cash-strapped capital city, Havana.

We first read about Pizzas from Heaven in an interesting story published a year ago in the Burlington Free Press, about impressions a group of US university students had gained from visiting Cuba.

Their tour was arranged by Dr. Lynne Bond, a psychology professor at the University of Vermont, who wrote:

We weave our way down the narrow side road and in front of us is a gathering of 15 people. They look like they are waiting for a bus. But they are not; they are looking up and they are yelling. They are doing business with Pizza from Heaven.

I look up to the top of this five-story building and see two men leaning over the wall from the rooftop patio (sheltered from a scorching sun by a green corrugated plastic roof.) They are lowering a small white mesh shopping bag to the ground -- quickly, mind you -- and a young mother scoops two 12-inch pizzas wrapped in white paper. As soon as she empties the bag, it flies skyward for the next order. The crowd, impatient, shouts more with each exchange. That, it turns out, is how you place your order.


Click to enlarge
We find a small piece of paper on the wall listing the 10 varieties of pizza -- chorizo (sausage), pineapple, onion, peppers, tomatoes, ham, and deluxe. Each is 35 to 50 cents. We shout our orders and in five, maybe 10, minutes the mesh bag laden with 16 pizzas descends from heaven to our waiting hands.

We later found another reference to the Pizzas from Heaven on a Virtual Tourist website. Susan from Toronto wrote:

Bought peso pizzas by yelling up the orders to this guy on the 3rd floor balcony, who then made the pizzas and lowered them in a basket. As many Cuban onlookers discovered, Chinese girls can yell pretty loud! And to the joy of my stomach, the pizza was excellent!

We sent an email to Dr. Bond, asking whether she had any photographs of these novel pizza deliveries. She kindly sent us two great photos (above), and told us:

You asked why the pizzas are made on high. People are so incredibly resourceful in Cuba - necessity breeds resourcefulness. These folks who run the business live on the top of the building and have no access to street level space.

So they figured out a way to use the space available to give them lots of room to: (1) communicate with potential customers, (2) bake pizzas comfortably (outside, under the cover of a plastic roof over the roof) even in the hot Havana weather, (3) create an operation that has its own unique twist (and thus its own attraction).

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Story first posted September 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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