When Debbie Taranto Antoun, owner of Taranto's Pizzeria in Lewis Center, Ohio, attended the 2007 North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show (NAPICS), she discovered a cool idea: putting a walk-in cooler outside.
Since then, her storage capacity has increased "phenomenally." And she's benefited from other ideas at previous shows as well, including e-mail marketing and online ordering.
But one of the greatest benefits has been meeting independent pizzeria operators just like her.
"You can help each other out, ask each other questions, get advice from other operators," Antoun said. "Since so many independents go, it's really nice because you're all in the same boat."
These relationships are exactly why the show was created, said Ann Reichle, who has been chairwoman of NAPICS since its inception five years ago and also led its predecessor, the Mid-America Restaurant, Soft-Serve & Pizza Show.
"It's been designed to develop a support network on a friendship basis," she said, pointing out that many pizza and ice cream operators generally are not bolstered by the same support that large restaurants have. "It's a friendly voice on the other end of the phone. It's a friendly e-mail in the morning. It's just somebody to pick you up when you fall down that understands what you're going through."
And that network has grown to be quite extensive.
More than 5,000 attendees and 220 exhibitors are expected to visit NAPICS 2008, set for Feb. 17-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Equipment suppliers will showcase everything from ovens to ice cream makers to fryers, and food products — including meats, cheeses, gelato, ice cream cones, appetizers, candy and coffee — also will be on display.
During the two-day show, attendees can choose from about 40 seminars, ranging from a hands-on cake-decorating class to customer service to learning the secrets of success from a panel of experts. For those looking for an extra boost of knowledge, pre-show workshops on marketing and dough technology are available Feb. 16 for an additional cost.
Preshow workshops cover marketing, dough
One of the featured presenters at the Pizza Operators Workshop will be Kamron Karington, author of the pizza marketing resource "Black Book: Your Guide to Creating Staggering Profits In Your Pizza Business." In the seminar, Karington will talk about the strategies that propelled his own pizza business to more than $1.6 million a year in sales.
"These guys are wearing 30 different hats trying to run their operation, so I know it's hard to give a lot of thought to marketing," Karington said. "My goal is to show them several ways to market their business and make the money they deserve."
The cost to attend the "Who Else Wants To Learn the Secrets of Successful Pizza Marketing?" workshop is $397, which includes a copy of the "Black Book" and four hours of intensive training in pizzeria marketing, along with full show registration and access to all Sunday and Monday programs.
Operators looking to improve the quality of their dough won't want to miss the Dough Technology workshop. The workshop will cover topics ranging from the functions of ingredients in pizza dough systems and principle types of pizza crusts on the market, to effective dough management, production techniques and pizza dough processing.
The cost to attend the workshop is $198, and includes four hours of training with speaker Jeff Zeak, full show registration and access to all Sunday and Monday programs. Both the marketing and dough technology seminars will be held from 8 a.m. until noon Feb. 16.
Another NAPICS favorite returning this year is the interactive pizza test kitchen, which will be manned by industry experts as well as operators. In the interactive pizza test kitchen, show attendees will have the opportunity to test a variety of pizza dough and tomato sauce recipes, along with the latest offerings in ovens and other pizzeria equipment.
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"There isn't any trade show where there is as much knowledge in one spot as there is in the interactive pizza test kitchen," Reichle said. "If you want to try a different kind of oven, a different kind of mixer or a different product, you can probably find it in the test kitchen."
Jeff Aufdencamp, owner of Mama Mimi's Take 'n Bake Pizza in Columbus, Ohio, said the show benefits from speakers with real-life experience.
"There's a lot of shows that you go to when people speak that aren't actually in the trenches every day," he said. "This is one of the shows that you actually get into the minds of people who actually do this for a living."
Exposure the top prize in contest
One show mainstay — the Pizza Pizzazz competition — has a new twist: this year, a total of 150 operators will compete in two categories, traditional and gourmet, bringing in their products and baking pies in hopes of creating mid-America's best. The top-prize winner in each category will take home $7,500, while second and third place garner $500 and $250, respectively.
On each of the two days, pizza makers will compete in each category by preparing one pizza for a panel of judges. Five finalists from each category will make the same pizza in a conclusive round later that day, when first, second and third prizes will be awarded.
John Gutekanst, winner of the 2007 Gourmet Pizza Pizzazz category, said winning has been great for his Avalanche Pizza business in Athens, Ohio.
"It's got to be one of the best competitions around because you meet guys from everywhere," he said. "Both days of it are really a lot of fun. There are so many good pizza makers out there and you'd be surprised where you find them from."
Gutekanst enters both the gourmet and traditional categories and spends the months leading up to the competition testing new pizza combinations. He also studies what the judges have selected as winners in previous years.
"You have to know your clients and what the judges are looking for," he said. "The second day is a little more mellow because you've gotten all the jitters out of the way. People will accept stuff on pizza. It's just a fabulous platform for anything."
But no matter who takes home the cash prizes, all attendees will be richer based on knowledge gained and connections made. Reichle said she exchanges e-mails and phone calls from people she's met at the show to share experiences, advice and even recipes.
"We're all in this big business world together," Reichle said. "The more success we have as individuals, the stronger our industry becomes."
*Additional reporting by Valerie Killifer and Richard Slawsky