Equipment exhibitors will showcase energy-efficient back-of-house equipment tailored to the pizza industry. New food products also will be launched; for example, PFG Foods has a tomato product that boasts a longer shelf freshness.
"We always know how important the tomato market is to our pizza businesses," said Licia Spinelli, vice president of marketing and special events for the Restaurant Association of Maryland .
While exhibitors are the show at the expo, several side acts will compete for the attention of between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees, up to 40 percent of which are quick-serve, fast-casual and pizza restaurant operators.
Eight seminars are planned for the two-day expo, to be held in Baltimore from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 19-20, at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Nationally recognized speakers will discuss a variety of topics designed to help restaurateurs become more successful and improve efficiency. Scheduled topics range from menu engineering and profitability to launching new products — there also is an opportunity for attendees to taste Australian wines.
One very popular attraction for attendees has been the chef demonstration stage, which Spinelli likens to "My Cooking Masterpiece Theater."
"It's an opportunity for the people who are really passionate about food and about their food products to demonstrate how they use it, why they think it's a great product, and original or new ways to use what are considered older or more tired products," she said. Attendees then may sample what the chefs have created.
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Attendees also may witness chefs under pressure in the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Chef Competition, as competitors vie for the top cash prize of $1,000 and the opportunity to represent Maryland in the Great American Seafood Challenge next year.
During the two-day event, each competitor has 60 minutes to prepare a signature fish and crab dish using Maryland Crabmeat and McCormick spices. A panel of three ACF-certified judges will determine who will move on to the national competition.
Another crowd-pleaser is the MHEF MicroBrew Garden, offered through a partnership between the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation and the Brewer's Association of Maryland. The result is a showcase of some of Maryland's best brewed beer, Spinelli said.
The garden is more than an opportunity to get a cold beverage. While they may taste and purchase the brews, attendees talk with the brewers and gather information about their products. Discovering new products and better ways of doing business in their establishments is a key reason restaurateurs and foodservice operators visit the expo, said Marshall Weston, MHEF vice president.
"So this gives the tavern owner and other operations a chance to check out these things," he said. "Rather than just seeing it on a shelf and guessing, they can actually taste the product, learn about the product and see how it would fit into what they are offering already in their restaurants."
On a philanthropic note, all proceeds support the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation. The Restaurant Association of Maryland set up the foundation, which has a school-to-career program that works with high-school students aiming for careers in the foodservice industry. The foundation also promotes training, food safety and alcohol awareness, and funds a scholarship program.
Spinelli encouraged all pizza restaurateurs to stay ahead of the competition by visiting the expo.
"It's a show that's been growing exponentially," she said, "and you will be letting your competition get their foot in the door sooner than you if you miss this show."