For many of the entrants in the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show Pizza Pizzazz competition, it's not the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat — or even the $5,000 grand prize — that draws them to battle it out on the show floor.
"The main reason I do it is to promote my restaurant," said Dave Smith II, owner of Emporium, Pa.-based Pizza Palace Plus. "When you win a gourmet pizza competition, people come from two hours away to eat your pizza. Sales are at a 50-percent increase, easily."
Smith has entered the traditional and gourmet categories of the NAPICS Pizza Pizzazz competition for the last three years, and although he's never won, he continues to make the competition part of his NAPICS experience.
NAPICS will be held Feb. 17-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, with the Pizza Pizzazz competition — sponsored by Presto Foods — set for Feb. 17 (gourmet) and Feb. 18 (traditional). 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.
In addition to expanding the Pizza Pizzazz contest from 50 to 75 entries each in both categories, the combined first-place prizes have reached a record $17,000 — with the first-place winner of each category set to receive a whopping $7,500 (second-place winners will receive $500 and third-place winners $250). Additionally, if a first-place winner bakes on a Lloyd Pans product, he or she will receive an extra $1,000 from Lloyd Pans.
It's the network
While the Pizza Pizzazz contest is meant to pit operator against operator, the true spirit of the competition lies in its networking opportunity.
"The major message that we preach from inside those tables is to network with other people, to see what other operators are doing and share ideas," said Ann Reichle, NAPICS chairwoman. "When you see somebody doing something that you don't know how to do — ask them about it. It's a friendly competition and we want to keep it a friendly competition."
Reichle won first prize in 1996. She and husband, Jim, owners of Angelina's Pizza in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, took the $300 in prize money and spent it on a meat slicer the same day at the show.
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."
Friendly banter and trash talking aside, the goal of the competition and the show is to bring independent operators together to trade ideas and advice.
"Hopefully, somewhere, we can just save one person by giving them the tools to build their business," Reichle said.
More than 5,000 attendees and 220 exhibitors are expected to visit NAPICS 2008.
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.
To register for Pizza Pizzazz, click here or call (800) 282-9049. The registration fee is $100 per competitor per contest. Registration fees also cover admission to both days of NAPICS and all free seminars. Pizza Pizzazz preregistration ends Feb. 13.