Operators can taste a few good pies and lick the best ice cream and gelato at the 2007 North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show, where 4,500 pizza makers and exhibitors will showcase their pepperonis, cheeses, frozen desserts, technology ... and so much more.
The show takes place Feb. 25-26 at the Columbus, Ohio, Convention Center.
"I think that this show is focused on the independent operator," said Ann Reichle, NAPICS show chairwoman. "(This) will give them all the tools they need to get an edge."
Old-school independent operators might feel overwhelmed when it comes to popular technology such as POS systems and online ordering, especially when industry giants Domino's Pizza and Papa John's garner solid sales through online ordering. Papa John's has had more than 25 million orders since its online ordering system was introduced five years ago.
Reichle said online ordering isn't a trend just for the big boys.
"Indies can take advantage of the hottest trend, too," she said. "We have a seminar where they can learn all about it." In addition, there will be several POS manufacturers and Web-software companies on-hand to visit with operators. And if the exhibitors can't answer your questions, you can always ask the experts.
"One of our most interesting features is our Saturday pre-show workshops, where attendees can ask industry experts and operator experts anything," she said. This panel includes: "Big Dave" Ostrander, The Pizza Doctor; Tom Lehmann and Jeff Zeak, of the American Institute of Baking; and Scott Anthony, a franchisee with Fox's Pizza Den. "These guys are on top of their game."
Perhaps the best draw for NAPICS is Pizza Pizzazz, the country's largest and longest- running pizza competition. The contestants compete in two categories — traditional and gourmet — for a purse of $5,000. Competitors bring their own ingredients and tools of the trade.
"You'd be surprised what you'll forget if you're not thorough," said Jodi Aufdencamp, co-owner of four-unit Mama Mimi's Take 'N Bake Pizza in Columbus. Aufdencamp. She and husband, Jeff, placed first in Pizza Pizzazz's gourmet division in 2001. "One time we entered a sausage, mushroom, onion and pepper pizza in Pizzazz, and when we got there, we realized we forgot the sausage. We had to go and find an exhibitor at the show who had sausage."
While the competition is fun to watch, getting one's hands into the food in the exhibit hall test kitchen is educational, Reichle said.
"The best place to be at this show is the test kitchen," she said. "You can play with dough, sauce and cheese. There's not anything like it at any other show."