Want to go to Italy? What pizza operator wouldn't, right?
How about a big sales shot in the arm for your pizza business? Like some of that action?
You can get both in one fell swoop if ... you win the 2005 North America Pizza Pizzazz competition, held Feb. 27-28, during the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio.
The trick is you have to make great pizza. Not just better than "the other guys'," it has to be a memorable pie, something worthy of international judges' palates.
Think yours has what it takes?
Then keep reading.
In its second decade, the long-running competition is expected to draw nearly 100 competitors from around the U.S. who will tussle for two spots on the U.S. Pizza Team. That group will compete in the World Championships in Salsamaggiore, Italy, in March.
Sounds serious, doesn't it?
Seriously fun and seriously good for your business, said two-time winner Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo's Pizza in Medina, Ohio.
"Whenever we've won, we've had people coming in from everywhere because they heard about us on the radio and on TV," said Brauser. "We had people coming from an hour-and-a-half away to try our pizza."
Past winner Joe Carlucci said his victory in 2003 opened the eyes of his Danbury, Ct., customers who'd never thought much about gourmet pizza.
"Now customers ask for different things they might not have before," said Carlucci, whose winning chicken Marsala pizza was shaped like the Italian peninsula and named The Boot. "I've done pizzas in the shape of a football since then, and I even did a pizza that looked like Yankee Stadium."
Despite Carlucci's far-reaching pizza designs, the competition is fairly straightforward (click here to see the rules): Fifty pizza makers compete in each of two categories (Gourmet, held on Feb. 27, and Traditional, held on Feb. 28) by making one pizza for review by a panel of judges.
Five finalists are chosen from each category to make and bake an additional, identical pizza.
First place gets an expenses-paid trip to Italy, second place wins $400 and third place pockets $200.
NAPICS chairwoman Ann Reichle said a traditional category win in 1996 saved her then-struggling business, Angelina's Pizza.
"We had spent literally our last nickel on tickets to the show and an entry into the competition," said Reichle, whose business is in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. Reichle's husband, Jim, also competed that year, and proved to have the duo's tastiest touch. "By the grace of God, when the winner was announced, it was him!"
When Cleveland media outlets reported on Angelina's victory, crowds came from near and far.
"Our business literally doubled overnight," said Reichle, whose company now includes four pizzerias, a deli and a catering company. "People were driving from almost 50 miles away to eat at the three tables in our tiny pizzeria."
From 1996 to 1998, the Reichles won or placed a total of five times in the Pizza Pizzazz, but much to their chagrin, the trip to Italy wasn't part of the prize package until 2001.
Both Carlucci and Brauser have competed at the World Championships there and said they're eager for a return trip. Brauser said the fact that his victory in Pizza Pizzazz would take him to pizza's birthplace made his story especially appealing to news outlets.
"We had a front page story in a local newspaper before we went to Italy, and the headline was, 'Romeo's Pizza takes on the world,'" he said. "From that point, our business went nuts. Our sales have never been down since that article; it wasn't a temporary increase."
Carlucci's trip to Italy was a thrill, he said, but even if that weren't the prize, he'd still compete — even though past commutes from Danbury to Columbus have taken him between 10 hours and 14 hours.
"I would travel a million miles to go to these competitions," he said. "If this industry is in your blood, you're going to compete."
Even when he's not feeling his freshest.
"I can tell you, by the time I get to the competition, it's usually starting," he said. "I've gone through snow storms sometimes and I show up unshaven. I'm already tired, but at the end it's worth it."
Reichle and Carlucci both said the unexpected perk of Pizza Pizzazz is the camaraderie among operators. New to the pizza business when she first entered the contest eight years ago, Reichle met people there who became not only good friends, but helped her guide her business to new heights.
Carlucci has enjoyed the same.
"I've made all these friends there, and it becomes like a little family in its own right," he said, adding that many of competitor friends later became his cohorts on the World Pizza Champions acrobatic tossing team. "You talk about your businesses with each other, talk about what you need help with."
But when the competition begins, the friendly talk ends and the game face goes on, he said.
"I don't talk to no one then," Carlucci said, laughing. "It's like Game 7 of the World Series. You don't see (Derek) Jeter slapping hands with (Pedro) Martinez, right? Same thing. I love these guys like brothers, but you don't see me slapping hands with Sean 'Big Dog' Brauser or mixing it up with Tony Gemignani.
"But afterwards, I might buy them a couple of drinks, and we all can laugh again."
* To register for the 2005 Pizza Pizzazz, click here. Registration deadline is February 18, 2005. All entries, plus the $100 per-entry fee must arrive by this date.
* To register to attend the NAPICS show, click here.