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 ideas picked up 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 such as meats, cheeses, gelato, ice cream cones, appetizers, candy and coffee.
During the two-day show, attendees can choose from about 40 seminars, ranging from a hands-on cake-decorating class to learning the secrets of success from a panel of experts. For those looking for an extra boost of knowledge, pre-show workshops on gelato, marketing and dough technology are available Feb. 16 for an additional cost.
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 get into the minds of people who actually do this for a living."
Another show mainstay — the Pizza Pizzazz competition — has a new twist: this year, the number of competitors will increase by 50 percent. 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.
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," she said. "The more success we have as individuals, the stronger our industry becomes."