A truly hands-on experience

What's one new pizza recipe worth to your operation?

Just ask Pizza Hut about its 4forAll or Papa John's about its Perfect Pan. Or just check their rising stock prices; that alone will answer your question.

You say you don't have the R&D staff or deep well of dollars to create and test pizzas like theirs?

No problem ... if you come to the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show, Feb. 19-20, in Columbus Ohio. For two days, all attendees have access to the NAPICS Pizza Test Kitchen, where industry experts are on hand to troubleshoot problems, develop pizzas, side dishes and strategies for marketing them—for free.

Yes, for free.

"We're going to have all the food and tools there to be able to grab a pizza dough and make a new creation if they want," said "Big Dave" Ostrander, an industry consultant who will serve in the test kitchen both days. "We're going to food-cost it out for them, they can print out the recipe

What's Important

The North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show will be held Feb. 19-20, at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

The Pizza and Ice Cream Test Kitchens will run throughout show hours on each day: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday.

To best utilize the expert and operator resources, compile a list of questions ahead of time that you'd like answered. Also, bring buisiness cards for networking with other operators.

and take that new idea back to their shop and see if they can make it a major superstar on their menu."

For free?

Yes, for free.

"This very long-sighted of NAPICS to think of this; it's all about helping attendees," Ostrander said. But to his surprise, test kitchen traffic over the past two years has been lighter than he expected. He thinks attendees fear "they'll be sold something if they come see us. ... Maybe they don't know how to deal with us offering absolutely free advice and knowledge."

Tom Lehmann, a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan., said he's seen much the same during the times he worked in the test kitchen. Many attendees appear apprehensive to walk up and start asking questions.

"People are so used to having to pay their way for most anything that when they see something for free, they're hesitant to go to it," said Lehmann, known also as the Dough Doctor. "The reaction is, 'This is free? I can't believe it's free.'"

Those who do come and ask questions typically want to know about trends, Lehmann said. As an internationally recognized baking expert, Lehmann travels globally as a consultant to pizza operations, and that allows him to spot culinary waves far from shore.

"International visitors to NAPICS will always ask me what's hot or what the trends are in the United States," Lehmann said. "They view what happens in the U.S. is an omen of what's coming in their own country."

International attendees also are more willing to seek his help, Lehmann added.

"They come with a whole bag of questions, and they're not bashful at all about asking them," he said. "They've traveled a long distance and they'd like to get some answers to their questions. But the American attendees aren't as forthcoming."

So what's the key to relaxing and raising your hand before the experts? Lehmann recommended attendees prepare a list of questions ahead of time. "That way you're ready to pick our brains."

If necessary, he and Ostrander, as well as other pizza experts volunteering throughout the show, will develop an answer by hand.

"We're going to have a mixer, pizza ovens and a refrigerated (make) table, and we're going to actually make, bake and sample pizzas right on the spot," Ostrander said. "If you need a good breadsticks recipe, we're going to be making garlic-cheese breadsticks from the recipe I used in my own store. We used to sell 400 orders a week at Big Dave's, so I know they're good."

More than just a kitchen

NAPICS chairwoman Ann Reichle said attendees shouldn't expect the test kitchen of yore. This year's model will be located in the exhibit hall alongside seminar areas, the Ice Cream Test Kitchen and the Pizza Pizzazz competition area. The new area was designed as a networking area where fellow operators and industry experts can help each other.

"This area will be an educational hot spot," said Reichle, co-owner of Angelina's Pizza in North Olmsted, Ohio. "All the seminars this year have been moved in to the test kitchen area, they'll be running every hour on the hour, and they'll last about 30 minutes each. Attendees will be able to talk to the people who are leading those sessions and get real information right then on the subjects discussed."

Reichle stressed that the seminars are led by pizza operators, not factory reps.

"This is not a sales center; there is nothing you can buy in this area," she said. "If I were an attendee, I would like knowing I could actually get a pizza in an oven and try it out. I'm a hands-on person who has to see it to understand it. And I understand best when the information is coming from another operator."

Pizza won't be the only subject discussed, she said. If someone is struggling with staffing issues, equipment problems, menu pricing, marketing, etc., other operators will be there ready to give answers. "This will be a great place to trade business cards, so be ready to network."

Ostrander said the test kitchen's proximity to the Pizza Pizzazz area is a real boon to attendees looking for new ideas.

"Were it me, I'd be watching what's happening at Pizza Pizzazz and then bopping back to the test kitchen to try it out," he said. "Just being near that contest and talking to other master pizza makers is priceless.

"Ask them questions; I know they'll tell you about their pizzas and how they run their businesses. That's stuff you can't read in a book or get from a video."

Put the freeze on it

NAPICS also is an ice cream show, and if you're thinking about adding ice cream to your menu, the Ice Cream Test Kitchen is also open to attendees. As will happen in the Pizza Test Kitchen, seminars on ice cream, gelato and other frozen desserts will run throughout the day, and operators are encouraged to ask questions about menu ideas of their own.

"There will be ice cream operator there, of course, but we also want pizza operators to see the possibilities of adding frozen desserts to the menus," said Reichle. "You just don't get these kinds of opportunities in one place, and that's what makes NAPICS truly unique."

Read also ... * NAPICS PREVIEW: The Presidents Panel * Third-annual NAPICS to feature innovative products, seminars * Coomes to host 'Extra Toppings' news show at NAPICS * A prize is just a 'Shuffle' away at PizzaMarketplace's NAPICS booth * 2006 NAPICS Pizza Pizzazz to feature America's best pizza makers * NAPICS Pizza Operators Workshop is for novices and veterans

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