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  • Tara Crutchfield

J. Burns’ Pizza Shop

Amadeo Fiore may be credited with bringing pizza to St. Louis, but Jerry Burns and Bernie Jackson brought the thin, crispy, cut-intosquares pie to Polk County.


But first, a slice of history on St. Louis-style pizza.



Fiore opened Melrose Pizzeria in the basement of the apartments by the same name at 204 North Sarah near the end of World War II. His pizza created such fanfare that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about it. A caption from the article reads, “With scissors Amadeo [sic] Fiore, proprietor-chef of the Melrose Pizzeria, cuts pizza into squares for serving. The squares, held with a paper napkin, are eaten from the hand.”


Decades later, in 1964, Ed and Margie Imo opened their namesake pizzeria on Thurman Avenue in St. Louis. With $75, Ed purchased a used oven, two refrigerators, and a stove. He continued working as a tile setter, “slicing squares of linoleum by day and pizza by night.”


Imo’s is credited as the creator of the “original St. Louis style pizza” and was the first to popularize Provel cheese in place of mozzarella. The modest shop grew, popularizing delivery, and by 1985 had 30 locations across the city. Today, there are nearly 100 Imo’s franchise locations across Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois.


In the 1950s, over 300 miles away in Dayton, Ohio, a young Jerry Burns was making the same kind of pizza at his job at Cassano’s.


In 1965, Burns and buddy Bernie Jackson opened the first J. Burns’ Pizza Shop location in Winter Haven. By the mid-80s, they grew to 11 locations. The pizzeria had a cult-like following, and many folks today could tell you a memory they have around the thin, crispy pizza. From birthday parties to Little League game celebrations, everybody loved J. Burns’.


By 1993, the last J. Burns’ location closed, and in 2008, Matt Wade and his son, Hunter Wade, bought the rights to the name. J. Burns’ and the company was officially revived in 2011. “He grew up next door neighbors next to Bernie Jackson. My father’s first job at 14 was with J. Burns’,” said Hunter Wade.


Wade says he and his father were lucky to have connections to the founding families to recreate the original magic. “The dough is the exact recipe that Jerry started with back in the ‘60s,” he said.



Describing Dayton’s Cassano’s as their ‘north star’ to St. Louis-style pizza, Wade said of J. Burns’ pie, “It’s thin, crispy, cut into squares all the way to the edges, so there’s no crust. The dough doesn’t rise, so it’s really thin.” A trade secret… Instead of coating the bottom of the dough with flour before it goes into the oven like a traditional New York style, they coat it with cornmeal. Another difference? J. Burns’ uses provolone cheese to top their pizza to make it Ohio-style, rather than the Provel used in the St. Louis-style. They don’t slack when it comes to quality, either. The pizza shop only uses fresh produce and dough (including a gluten-free option).


Today, J. Burns’ has three locations across Lakeland and Winter Haven. Wade credits that success to what Jerry Burns did back in the day. “We’re just doing something that someone else had already done well and trying to capture that essence of what J. Burns’ was – a staple in the community.” Wade says they hope to “tug on [people’s] heartstrings through pizza.”


Hunter bought out his father for a majority stake six years ago. The pair still work together along with Hunter’s wife, Cali, and their six-year-old daughter, Payton, who has her own little J. Burns’ uniform. Wade notes that they hope to open more locations soon.


PIZZA PRO TIP: The best way to reheat a J. Burns’ pizza? Turn the oven up as high as it will go – I’m talkin’ 475-500 degrees. Preheat your pan and bake your pie for two to three minutes. According to Wade, that will get it close to that cracker crispy crust without getting rubbery.

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