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NEW YORK — George Michel knew it was a gamble to exhibit his company's parbaked pizza shells at the 2005 New York Pizza Show. The native New Yorker knows fresh dough is king in the Big Apple, home to more than 2,000 pizzerias. So to grab the attention of attendees at the Nov. 1-2 event, he used his shells for dessert pizzas, an arguably heretical idea for the area's pizza makers.

It worked.

"The introduction of a dessert pizza here has gone over better than anywhere else I've shown it," said Michel, president of Tomanetti's Pizza, an Oakmont, Pa., manufacturer of parbaked dough shells for pizza and sandwich. "Many operators were surprised and pleased with the flavor profile of a sweet pizza, which was a strong statement for our crust. They tasted it with a sweet topping and a savory topping, and it performed just as well."

Perhaps more importantly, Michel said, is many operators saw the benefits of using parbaked shells for panini, trendy Italian-style sandwiches made easier with shells.

"Everyone does a sandwich, and this is one way (existing operators) can broaden their menu by carrying only one more item in stock," he said. "And anyone we've seen here who's looking to open an operation is very receptive to parbake. They understand the labor savings and consistency issues."

Kenneth Mull also was testing the waters of the New York market with his Dripie product, a plastic mesh which keeps pizza crusts crisp during delivery by raising the whole pie a few millimeters off the pizza box. That thin gap, Mull said, allows steam to escape without accelerating temperature loss.

"It's gaining interest slowly," said Mull, sales manager for Dexmet Corp., which manufactures Dripie in Naugatuck, Conn. He said long-time operators are a tough sell because they

George Michel of Tomanetti's Pizza talked with Joseph and Mary Ann Randone about the benefits of parbaked shells used for panini.

don't think they need it. "One time I was at a pizzeria that's been in business 50 years, and (the founder) said he didn't need it, that everything was fine. But I sent him home with a pizza and a Dripie, and a little later, he called back and said, 'You're right, we need it. It works.'"

Depending on the pizza's size, each Dripie sheet costs between 13 cents and 20 cents, and in a tight-margin business, those pennies do add up. Mull insists, however, the result is worth the investment and that customers ultimately will recognize and appreciate the difference.

"If all you're interested in is pennies, then we're the wrong people to talk to," he said. "When it gets delivered to the enduser, it's dry on the bottom, not soggy. Quality is the name of the game."

Response to Roma Foods' new line of Caffe Piancone Crema D' Oro espresso products was positive, said marketing director Pam Coletta. Imported from Italy, the line includes whole and fully ground espresso beans, as well as "kits" designed for single-serving espresso pod machines.

"We're looking to do a program with manufacturers of the pod machines, where you'd purchase a machine and get a free case of the pod kits," said Coletta. Each kit contains coffee, sugar, stir sticks and

Dexmet's Kenneth Mull holds up a sheet of Dripie, a plastic mesh that fits below a pizza inside a box to help it stay crisp during delivery.

serving cups. "This pod kit is perfect for smaller mom-and-pop Italian or pizza restaurants that don't have to turn tables very quickly, places where people can linger over espresso."

George Sara, president of A-one Touch POS, said his company's product is designed for independent operators, folks who made up the bulk of attendees. Owners who've resisted spending the money on a POS system to date are finally beginning to accept their use as necessary, he said.

"It's a seven-day-a-week thing for most people, and they see this as a way to save them some time and track their customers better," said Sara, whose company is in Edison, N.J. A-one Touch's comparably lower cost caught the eye of several at the show, he added. "We make it affordable for mom-and-pop businesses; they don't have 20 grand to spend on a POS system. Ours are $13,000 to $14,000, and that seven grand difference is like a week of sales for somebody."

Jeff Doyle, president of POS software developer Revention, made no apologies for the premium price of his company's system because of its high level of operator customization. The $20,000 average investment, he said, equates to a better-performing system that will pay for itself sooner than a generic model.

"We tell our clients our system will pay for itself within eight to 12 months," said Doyle, whose company is in Houston. Like Sara, he said operators in the New York area are more eager to buy a system this year than in the past. "The reaction to what our system costs has gotten much better than it was a year ago. They're starting to understand a POS system is as much a necessary part of a pizza shop as a stove."

What operators are most concerned with, he added, "is ease of use and how their staff will react to it. They want it to be a worthwhile investment."

Nods to present and past

During the show, 250-unit Fox's Pizza Den received the Pizza Industry Enterprise award from show sponsor Pizza Marketing Quarterly magazine. The company, which is 100-percent franchised, turned in double-digit revenue gains and a 6.1 percent unit increase in 2004.

Accepting the award was founder Jim Fox, who credited his franchisees for making his Pittsburgh chain a success. "I have been in the pizza business almost 40 years and have seen a lot of changes over the years. But it has been a pleasure to work with a lot of super people in this business. We are now 250-plus units strong and located in 28 states across the country. It is great to be able to now help others achieve their dreams of becoming shop owners and independent entrepreneurs."

The show also featured a celebration of the 100th anniversary of pizza in the U.S. John Brescio, owner of

Roma Foods unveiled its new Caffe Piancone Crema D' Oro espresso line during the show. The coffee is imported from a roaster in Italy.

Lombardi's Pizzeria, which opened in lower Manhattan in 1905 as the nation's first licensed pizzeria, cut a cake commemorating the event.

New York challenging for tradeshows

Exhibitor and attendee numbers were visibly lower at this, the second-annual New York Pizza Show. Last year's event drew some 240 exhibitors and 2,500 attendees, but several exhibitors, who declined to comment on the record, guessed attendee numbers this year were about half that. Others, who exhibited at August's New York Pizza Expo, an event run by rival exhibition company Pizza Expo, said the NYPS attendance appeared to be about the same: 1,500 attendees.

NYPS show management declined to estimate attendance until the event had ended, though co-owner Steve Green said many exhibitors told him the smaller crowd afforded them more time with attendees.

"We've gotten a lot of positive feedback so far," Green said on the second day of the show. "We're upbeat about the whole thing."

One exhibitor, who asked not to be identified, said the leaner crowds at this year's NYPS and the NYPE prove that "New York is just a tough market that no one has really figured out yet. We're surrounded by pizza shops in this city, but the few guys you see coming through this hall aren't from New York. I don't think anybody really knows yet what to do to create a show here that the locals will come to. It's not easy for them."

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