More than 14,000 pizzeria, restaurant and foodservice operators are expected to attend the 11th-annual Mid-America Restaurant, Soft Serve & Pizza Show, set for Feb. 23-24, in Columbus, Ohio's Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Hosted by the Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA), the expo will feature more than 180 exhibiting companies filling some 360 booths with the newest and food products, equipment and services available to the foodservice industry.
The show will see some 75 pizza makers compete in the 9th annual Mid-America Pizza Pizzazz Competition Team Trials. Winners in four different categories will earn all-expenses-paid trips to Salsamaggiore, Italy, for the world championships in April.
Away from the show floor, attendees can sample a smorgasbord of educational offerings designed to help operators excel in a tough business climate.
According to Dolores Bennison, director of communications for ORA, the Mid-America show draws attendees from well beyond its core six-state market.
"Those states around us make up our target market, but attendees come from all over," Bennison said. "I know of people coming from Canada, New York and Georgia."
Pizza Pizzazz competitors come from even farther-flung destinations, said show chairwoman Ann Reichle.
"We've got contestants this year coming from both coasts," said Reichle. "I know of one guy coming from Washington state and another from Connecticut. These guys really want to be here."
The competition includes two categories: best traditional pizza and best gourmet pizza. Gourmet pizzas will be judged on Sunday, and traditional pies on Monday.
Fifty competitors in each category will compete for first-, second-, and third-place prize money of $600, $400 and $200 respectively.
The top finishers in each category win all-expenses-paid trips for two to Italy to compete in the world championships.
"The people who've been on that trip say it's just a blast," said Reichle, who won the traditional category in 1997, two years before the U.S. Pizza Team began traveling to the world championships.
Bennison said the camaraderie between competitors is unusual.
"You can tell they love competing against each other and themselves, but they really respect each other," she said. "It's not dog-eat-dog at all. They're always interacting and learning from each other."
(* For entry information call 800-282-9049 or 614-442-3535.)
Among the large slate of seminars available to attendees are these pizza-focused sessions:
* Xavier A. Teixido, chairman of the National Restaurant Association and owner-operator of Harry's Savoy Grill, Wilmington, Del., will kick off the conference Sunday morning with a speech centering on the NRA's activities in the defense against obesity lawsuits, and the group's continued push for pro-restaurant legislation.
Show at a Glance
WHAT: Mid-America Soft-Serve and Pizza Show
WHEN: Feb. 23-24, 2003
WHERE: Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, Ohio
TO REGISTER: Ohio Restaurant Association at 800-282-9049
* Internal Revenue Service (IRS) area director for Columbus Nick Hall will discuss how the IRS' Restaurant Industry Center of Excellence helps build cooperative working relationships between the government and restaurateurs in his seminar "Can the IRS Really Help Me?"
* Shelley Prueter of Prueter & Associates in Cleveland will talk on the hot topic of recruiting and maintaining staff in her discussion, "Relationship Recruiting: Hiring Intelligence, Experience & Motivation Isn't Enough."
* For those looking to boost their dough knowledge, General Mills' Tim Huff will lead a seminar on "Pizza Dough 101." The session will include Q&A for dough troubleshooting.
* On Monday, Neighbhorhood Marketing Institute founder Tom Feltenstein will discuss "The Magic of Neighborhood Marketing & Four Walls Promotion." An established marketing educator and visionary, Feltenstein will share business-boosting ideas proven to work in any-size operation.
* Bill Eves of Sunbelt Realtors in Columbus will teach operators his seller's Ten Commandments in a seminar on "How to Sell/Buy a Restaurant."
Aisles of plenty
Reichle said that at 28 percent of total attendees, pizzeria operators represent the largest group of operators at the show. And according to Peter Stern, spokesman for show organizer Exhibitions Productions, Inc., the Mid-America show's exhibitor make-up is ready made for them.
"At least 60 percent of the exhibitor base is made up of direct purveyors to the pizza industry," said Stern, whose company is based in Boston.
The exhibit hall is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday.
Reichle said she finds the best networking opportunities while moving among the exhibit hall aisles.
"When you're passing through, you stop and ask people questions and just start conversations," Reichle said. "Sometimes you overhear conversations with someone else and jump in. Sometimes I can help someone who's having a problem, and sometimes I get help."
For attendees seeking a casual networking opportunity, the annual culinary caravan might be the ticket. This year's theme, "Caravan VII -- Let's Go Country Clubbing," includes stops at three of Columbus' oldest and most stately private country clubs: Scioto, Brookside and Columbus Country Club.
Motorcoach transportation will ferry participants along the progressive feast to each club for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and fine dining.
The evening's final stop will feature special desserts, coffee and a cash bar at the new Jack Nicklaus Museum.
Cost of the reservations-only event is $75 per person. To register, call Gail Baker at 877-274-2672, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for reservations is Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The 2003 Mid-America Restaurant, Soft Serve & Pizza Show is open only to members of the foodservice industry.
Pre-registration is $15 before Feb. 8. On-site registration is $25.
For more information, contact the Ohio Restaurant Association at 800-282-9049, or register online.