• A slice of New York

NEW YORK — When it comes to pizza and New York City, Bob Vittoria said it best as he pointed to a bubbling, coal-tanned pie on a table at his legendary restaurant, John's Pizzeria.

"That's what it's all about, right there," said Vittoria, owner of the 70-year-old Greenwich Village shrine. To 40-odd pizza operators crammed into his restaurant's back dining room, Vittoria was a one-man welcoming committee at a pre-event gathering for attendees of the first-ever New York Pizza Show. "That pizza, that's what people come here for."

To John's, to Lombardi's to Totonno's ... and to Manhattan's Javits Center to attend the Nov. 2-3 gathering. Show sponsors PMQ Magazine and Infinity Expo Group put attendance at 2,400. PMQ editor-in-chief Tom Boyles said the event exceeded organizers' expectations.

"It went above and beyond where we thought it would be. We're very well pleased," said Boyles. "We're getting great feedback from all our exhibitors. Some said they sold more product here than at any past East Coast shows."

Not even the country's

WRH Industries' Paul Bartley talked shop with Tom Lehmann of the American Institute of Baking.

fixation on the tightest presidential election in memory subdued the first-Tuesday-in November turnout as operators filed in for a host of early-morning seminars on marketing, dough troubleshooting and financial management. When the show floor opened later, the crowds came in droves, said David Schaefer, president of Bag Solutions.

"I was very pleasantly surprised with the traffic," Schaefer said. "This has been an excellent show, a really good writing-orders show. I've already booked a booth for next year."

Paul Bartley, vice president of sales and marketing for colored dough-box manufacturer WRH Industries, called the traffic moderate, but said buyers were aplenty.

"The folks who showed up here were all new customers ... not one existing customer," said Bartley. "People came, placed orders and became new customers."

Bartley said attendees he spoke to journeyed to Manhattan from well beyond the New York area. Dough expert Tom Lehmann learned the same from attendees at his seminars.

"There were a lot of local operators, but I saw some from Florida, another from California and one other from the Philippines," said Lehmann, director of baking technology at the American Institute of Baking. Asked what pizza dough maladies the "Dough Doctor" was asked to solve, Lehmann said it was the usual stuff: product inconsistency and waste. "I had a guy tell me, 'If I walked away from your seminar with only one thing, it was learning how to use the dough that's

The World Pizza Champions acrobatic team had its coming out party at the show.

leftover instead of throwing it away.' I showed him how to make breadsticks and focaccia out of it and incorporate it in to new dough production."

Lehmann said his two seminars lasted twice as long as expected. A three-hour session on day one became a six-hour talkathon, and a two-hour session the next day lasted four. "They finally came in and told us we had to get out of the room unless we wanted to stay and clean it up."

Inborne Technology Corp. CEO Jeff Ward was "expecting a ghost town" as far as attendance, but steady traffic quashed that notion, he said.

"It seems that when I've gone to new shows, like Pizza Expos in Chicago and Atlantic City, they were much lower in attendance," said Ward, whose company makes Point of Success POS software. "I think the show was well attended. We've talked to a lot of good people."

Contested contests

A key draw on the show floor was the battle for spots on the U.S. Pizza Team. Winners in three categories — largest dough stretch, fastest pizza maker and best acrobatic routine — earned expenses-paid trips to compete in the World Pizza Championships in Salsamaggiore, Italy, in March.

Brian Edler, a four-store Domino's Pizza franchisee handily won fastest pizza maker and largest dough stretch titles, ensuring his third trip to the world championships.

Juan Hermosillo, a former California Pizza Kitchen pizzaiolo, captured the top acrobatic spot in an upset over five-time acrobatic world champion Tony Gemignani. When the results were read, Gemignani and many onlookers were shocked to learn he placed second.

"Nobody could believe it. Nobody," said Gemignani, 48 hours after the contest. He has coached the U.S. Pizza Team, which is owned by PMQ, for the last three years. "My routine was very strong and very clean. Not to knock Juan, but I believe I was better."

So did many in the audience, including Gemignani's World Pizza Champions teammates. (The six-man unit had its coming out party on the first day of the New York show.) Western Restaurant Show (2003) acrobatic champ and WPC team member Siler Chapman said Hermosillo's routine was not comparable to Gemignani's.

"From my perspective, Juan dropped (the dough) 11 times, and Tony only dropped it two times," Chapman said. "Juan is good at what he does, but he's not clean. Maybe in a year and with some practice he'll be cleaner. But Tony was the cleanest this time.

"In Italy they also judge by how much you look at the dough in your routine. Tony never looks at it; he looks

WPC team member Siler Chapman executed a between-the-legs trick during his acrobatic routine.

at the crowd. Juan had to look at the dough the whole time."

When Gemignani disputed the results with judges and show organizers, a shoving match ensued and he was escorted from the building.

Gemignani later accused PMQ publisher Steve Green and judges Chris Green (Steve's son and an employee of PMQ) and editor-in-chief Boyles of conspiring to score his routine poorly in retaliation for his role in forming the World Pizza Champions. The new team is made up entirely of past U.S. Pizza Team members.

"Why else would they score me so low?" Gemignani asked. "It was a good routine, and I should have won."

Steve Green did not respond to requests for an interview and Boyles declined comment.

The show's other competition, the first-ever America's Plate — a best-pizza face-off between pizzaioli from the U.S., Australia, Italy and France — was also marred by a mistake in the announcement of the winner. Moments after Steve Green told the crowd Italian Anniello Falanga was the victor, he interrupted the trophy presentation.

"Does everybody remember the most embarrassing moment in their life? Well, here's mine," Green said. "The real winner is Australia."

A distraught Enrico Fama, organizer of the Italian pizza team and the World Pizza Championships, said Falanga was devastated.

"This guy was astonished. He was nearly to cry," Fama told an apologetic Green. "This has made me in (trouble) now."

America's Plate winner

Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo's Pizza, showed off the hardware he collected in becoming the U.S. representative in the America's Plate.

Andy Parisi, from Adelaide, Australia, was not available for comment. When announced he was the winner, an exuberant group of Aussies cheered wildly, accepted the trophy and left the show floor.

The U.S. representative in the America's Plate, Sean Brauser, owner of Romeo's Pizza in Medina, Ohio, qualified for the finals by winning a playoff between four other winners of American regional pizza contests. His Julia's Surprise pizza included a ranch and bacon sauce topped with caramelized onions, red potatoes roasted garlic, spicy sausage, slivered almonds and mozzarella.

Brauser's top American pie guaranteed him a spot on the culinary half of the U.S. Pizza Team, when it competes next year in Italy.

Super seminars

In a seminar titled "Service that Sells!" T.J. Schier advised operators that memorable gestures — not coupons and discounts — endear customers to pizzerias.

Once when he ordered four large pies from Domino's, the order taker said, "Four pizzas? What's going on there?" Schier explained that his son, Matthew, was having a birthday party, and when the pizzas arrived, attached to a box was a note that read, "Tell Matthew, Happy Birthday from Domino's."

"Do you think we remembered that?" Schier asked.

Schier stressed that the goal of service is interaction, not transaction. Key phrases and words that initiate interaction include, "My pleasure." "I'd be happy to." "Certainly." "What I can do is ... ."

Interaction killers include the use of words like, dudes, man, guys or cool, kickin' or wicked, because they do nothing to honor the customer.

Reach out and touch customers through the phone, Schier suggested, by asking them about their home delivery experiences.

"Every day you should call back three to five customers who ordered yesterday and ask if their experience was outstanding," he said. "You're probably going to get a lot of answering machines and not a lot of call-backs. But knowing that you took the time to call and ask will stick in guests' minds."

Peter Reinhart, chef on assignment at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., discussed the growing artisan pizza movement in the U.S. While researching for his recent book, "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," Reinhart discovered several American pizza makers who have built a following on time-honored pizza-baking traditions, not cheap, fast delivery.

"To the artisan baker, (pizza) starts with high-quality products," Reinhart said. "It's a connection not only to those products, but the sources of those products."

Reinhart called Gennaro Lombardi, the founder of the nation's first — and New York's first — pizzeria, an artisan pizza maker of his time. Not only was his pizza made by hand, it was "made by somebody who really cared about the product and the customer experience."

Pizza is just beginning to follow the course of the beer brewing industry in the U.S., Reinhart said. A century ago, hundreds of artisan brewers operated across the nation. But over time major

Peter Reinhart, author of "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," talked with an attendee following his seminar on the emergence of artisan pizza baking in the U.S.

breweries either bought out or snuffed out smaller breweries until there were only five U.S. breweries in all.

"Ultimately the product suffered as it was lowered to a mediocre standard of beer," Reinhart said. But as Americans traveled to outside the U.S. and tasted diverse beers, as well as old-world breads, the desire to duplicate them back home gave life to artisan brewing and baking.

"Both of those trends began back in the 1980s, and look where beer and bread have come since," he said. "We're just at the beginning of that same thing happening in pizza."

Reinhart said artisan pizza isn't gourmet pizza, which focuses on toppings. Artisan pizza is crust-centric. His friend and fellow food writer Jeffrey Steingarten is so focused on pizza crusts that he rates them on a scale of 1 to 10. The scale for pizza toppings, however, only ranges from 1 to 2.

"California Pizza Kitchen is a good example of this," he said, alluding to the fact CPK uses frozen, rather than hand-made dough. "Its toppings do make its pizza interesting, but not memorable."

More often than not, Reinhart said, artisan pizza makers are the heart and soul of their operations and their businesses are rarely open if that person isn't there. Chris Bianco, founder and owner of James Beard Award-winning Bianco Pizzeria in Phoenix is the embodiment of the artisan baker, he said.

"Chris is the poster boy for the artisan pizza movement because of how he cares for his product," Reinhart said. "He could have a bigger business and more restaurants, but he he's the essence of the Pizzeria Bianco experience. That can't be duplicated without him."

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