What if, for $100, you could get a 50-1 shot at winning an expenses-paid trip to Italy, $600 cash and loads of free PR for your pizza business—would you spend it?
You could win all the above--plus a whole lot more—if you use the $100 to enter the 2004 North America Pizza Pizzazz contest—and if you have a great pizza, of course.
One of the longest-running pizza contests in the nation, Pizza Pizzazz is held in conjunction with the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show (NAPICS), scheduled Feb. 8-9, 2004, in Columbus, Ohio. The event draws 75 to 100 pizza makers from all around the country to compete in two categories: traditional and gourmet (50 entrants per category, but competitors can enter both categories). Winners in each category secure spots on the U.S. Pizza Team, which will travel to Salsamaggiore, Italy, to compete in the world championships in late March.
The contest is straightforward (click here to see the rules): Fifty competitors in each category (gourmet on Feb. 8, traditional on Feb. 9) make one pizza to be scored by a panel of judges. Five finalists are chosen, and all make and bake an additional, identical pizza. First place wins $600 and the trip to Italy, second place wins $400, and third place pockets $200.
The perks and the bragging rights are great, but the long-term business boost, said 2003 gourmet category winner Jack Atlas, is the real prize. The TV, newspaper and radio buzz generated by his victory boosted businesses at Gahanna Pizza Plus a sustained 20 percent.
"It was a lot more than that in the beginning, because we had people driving long distances to try us out," said Atlas, whose shop is in Gahanna, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. "It definitely got us a lot of new customers, and business has steadily increased since then."
A traditional-category win in 1996 super-charged then-struggling Angelina's Pizza.
"We had spent literally our last nickel on tickets to the show and an entry into the competition," said Ann Reichle, co-owner of Angelina's 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!"
Several Cleveland media outlets reported on Angelina's victory, which drew crowds like the Reichles hadn't seen.
"Our business literally doubled overnight," said Reichle, whose company now includes a second pizzeria, 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 as part of the U.S. Pizza Team wasn't part of the prize package until 2001.
Gahanna's Atlas said the four-day trip was a thrill of a lifetime that he'd like to enjoy again.
"Being able to represent the United States in a foreign country was just great," said Atlas, who participates in multiple "best pizza" contests annually. "You get to see the way they do it over there, and you meet so many people. I definitely would like to go back."
This year's contest will mark the third time Atlas has entered (as this year's NAPICS show chairwoman, Reichle can't compete), something he expects to do for years to come. The camaraderie alone makes the effort worth it, he said, as does learning what other pizza makers are doing by seeing and tasting their pies. Margie Davidson, owner of Margie's Pizza & Pasta agreed.
"Making the trip ... to compete in the Pizza Pizzazz competition has been a family favorite of ours for years," said Davidson, whose shop is in Goodrich, Mich. "We have met so many wonderful people and made so many friends over the years that it has become a tradition."
Reichle said many of the contacts she made in her first competition helped save her business.
"That's the best thing we took out of the competition. It has far exceeded the paybacks from the additional sales," she said. "We have built a resource net around us for help and encouragement. Hopefully we have given more than we have received."
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