NAPICS: A feast for the senses
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If the smell of freshly baked pizza didn't draw attendees into the 2007 North American Pizza & Ice Cream Show, perhaps it was the sight of ice-cold gelato, perfectly shaped pizza dough or glossy stainless steel ovens ready for use.  
 
Whatever your passion, this year's NAPCIS didn't disappoint. Preliminary numbers show nearly 5,300 attendees walked among more than 400 booths. "It was absolutely extraordinary on Sunday," said Ann Reichle, NAPICS chairwoman and co-owner of Angelina's Pizza in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. "I just could not believe what I saw in the aisles."
 
Attendance at this year's show was 18 percent higher than in 2006, something Reichle attributes to a changing industry mindset. "I think the show is starting to come into its own identity after four years. This year we picked up 30 new exhibitors that are aiming specifically at this audience."
 
Already, 65 percent of show exhibitors have signed on for the 2008 event and more are expected within the next few weeks.
 
This year as well, attendees were serious lookers and buyers, an attitude somewhat lacking at previous shows; there also were more attendees new to or recently indoctrinated into the industry, Reichle said.
 
Jay Baisden and Kipper Hesson, partners in DJK Properties, purchased a Fox's Pizza Den franchise in West Virginia in May 2005. Baisden said the duo headed to NAPICS "to learn what we've done wrong and fix it."
 
"This being our first year here and it's been very helpful," he said.
 
An educational experience
 
Baisden and Hesson were particularly interested in attending some of the show seminars, one of the more popular offerings at this year's NAPICS.
 
Baisden said marketing is their biggest challenge. "If you think about our area, it's a transient area," he said. "People coming in don't know about us. We need people to know we're there."
 
Several seminars Saturday, Sunday and Monday focused on helping operators market their locations and increase revenue.
Contestants and volunteers crowded the makeshift kitchen and prep area at NAPICS for the North American Pizza Pizzazz competition.
 
During his seminar, Pricing Secrets of Pizzeria Owners Who Get Rich, Kamron Karington, told attendees to add items of value to their customers' transactions. 
 
 "If you have the opportunity to add a few things to the transaction ... we're going to focus (customers) on what they get, not what they pay. This says, 'Hey, I want to earn your business. I'm going to throw in some things if you'll show up and give us a shot,'" he said.
 
In addition, Karington said the top way for pizza operators to make money is to raise prices. "It costs nothing. If your prices are in the ballpark and you are now selling your product, you're not discounting it so much, raise your prices."
 
During a panel discussion Monday, Scott Anthony, a franchisee of Fox's Pizza Den in Punxsutawney, Pa., said offering specials is another way to attract customers.
 
"I've found that the best time to do a special is when the 'big three' chains are doing them. That allows you to piggyback off all their marketing," he said. "When Domino's does their steak pizza, I do one, too, and we tell our customers, 'We sell ours with a free salad.' They just want to feel they're getting something extra."
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Attendance at each of the pizza and gelato seminars did not discriminate in terms of numbers. An equal number of attendees were present during both, a further indication that pizza and gelato is a pairing akin to peanut butter and jelly.
 
Other seminars this year were: Boot Camp Marketing; Using Technology to Increase Sales and Boost Customer Loyalty; Perfect Portion Control; and How to Franchise Your Business.
 
Another popular feature was the interactive pizza test kitchen, run by consultant 'Big Dave' Ostrander, Tom Lehmann and Jeff Zeak from the American Institute of Baking, and 'Pizza Paul' Nyland, also a consultant.
 
In the test kitchen, operators could test a variety of pizza dough and tomato sauce recipes.
 
"(The kitchen) helped people solve problems or new restaurant issues from what kind of ovens to use or what kind of flour to use," Reichle said. "That just keeps getting better and better."
 
More ovens will be on hand next year, Reichle said.
 
One thing that has significantly changed the pizza landscape is technology.
 
Vince Militello, from Cudahy , Wisc., came to talk about Pavone Deli Company products.
 
 
Exhibitors displayed gift cards and programs, point-of-sale systems, and a new 4 1/2-minute oven manufactured by Pizza Equipment Supply Inc. The oven can stack up to four units high and his part of the company's Pro Series pizza-oven line.
  
Pizza with Pizzazz
 
The heat during this year's Pizza Pizzazz competition didn't only come from the ovens. Competition was fierce in each Gourmet and Traditional categories of what is the country's longest-running and highest-paying pizza competition.
 
With nearly $12,000 in prize money on the line, this marked the first year all 100 slots were filled for the two-day competition. In the past, some contestants signed up on the day they competed, but this year's full slate yielded a waiting list for would-be contestants hoping pre-registrants wouldn't show up.
 
Contestants in both categories included pizzaioli from well-established companies to those new to the industry.
 
Winner of the Gourmet category was John Gutekanst of Avalanche Pizza in Lancaster, Ohio. Gutekanst won with his Cactus Jack Fajita Pizza, a combination of rib-eye steak, red onions, green peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella and provolone cheeses.
 
In the traditional category, Ken Jarboe of Sparky's Pizzeria in Urbana, Ohio, won with his ATW pizza, a combination of pepperoni, sausage, ham, onion, green pepper, mushroom, green and black olives, banana pepper and cheese.
 
Other winners include:
 
Gourmet
 
2nd Place: Sarah Bankert — Marco's Pizza of Wilmington, Ohio
3rd Place: Robert Carrabbia — Mama Lena's Pizza of McKees Rocks, Pa.
 
 
Traditional
 
2nd Place: James Catalfino — Catalfino's Pizza & Pub of Canal Winchester, Ohio
3rd Place: Paul Cataldo — Antonio's Italian Ristorante of Elkhart, Ind.
 
 
 

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