COLUMBUS, Ohio — As many as 100 pizza makers will compete for $11,500 in cash — including two $5,000 first prizes — at the 2007 Pizza Pizzazz.
The annual bake-off is the largest pizza-making contest in the United States and the highest-paying event of its kind in the world. It will be held during the North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show
, Feb. 25-26, at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
On each of two days, 50 pizza makers will compete in separate Gourmet (Feb. 25) and Traditional (Feb. 26.) categories 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 ($5,000), second ($500) and third ($250) prizes will be awarded.
Over the past several years, first-prize Pizza Pizzazz winners won a spot on the United States Pizza Team (USPT) and traveled to Salsomaggiori, Italy, to compete in the World Championships. This year, organizers upped the ante with a cash award winners could use as they pleased.
When NAPICS chairwoman Ann Reichle won first prize in 1996, her take was $300. She and husband, Jim, owners of Angelina's Pizza in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, took the money and bought a meat slicer.
"Oh, I'd love to come out of retirement to compete in this now!" Reichle said, laughing about her comparably puny prize. "If I won that I think I'd take a trip to Fiji."
Pizza Pizzazz switched to all-cash prizes, Reichle said, to let operators choose how to spend it.
"There are so many things an operator could use it for," she said. "You could use that $5,000 to buy new equipment or repair what's broken in your shop. Some might need it for payroll or just money in their pocket to go somewhere fun."
Prestige that pays
Doug Fahrenholz, an executive with restaurant equipment supplier The Wasserstrom Company, was among the NAPICS committee members who voted to increase the prizes. The contest already is the country's finest and arguably the oldest of its kind, he said, so the prizes needed to match its prestige.
"We thought offering a large cash prize would bring in many competitors from all over the country," Fahrenholz said. "We are looking for operators who compete in Pizza Pizzazz to get the truest understanding of who's really got the best pizza around the nation."
Jason Samosky, owner of Samosky's Homestyle Pizzeria in Valley City, Ohio, won the gourmet category in 2005 and competed in Italy. Knowing the Pizza Pizzazz rules allow the same competitor to enter in both the Gourmet and the Traditional categories, Samosky thought, "I can win on both days, couldn't I? But I wouldn't mind just winning on one."
Samosky, who gained a spot on the USPT last fall in a separate contest, was asked how he'd spend the cash if he won Pizza Pizzazz. "I guess I'd put it toward the shop, but since I'm going to Italy already, I could have a spending spree there, too."
Prizes aside, both Reichle — whose Pizza Pizzazz record includes two firsts, two seconds and one third — and Samosky said winning the competition brings greater rewards than the quick cash. Both saw their modest businesses boom after winning the contest.
"The most value to the business is the publicity, and the most value to the operator is pride," Reichle said. "When you can say to the customer on the other side of the counter that yours was judged the best, they're very impressed."
Samosky added, "I'd do it for free just to compete and test my pizzas against the others from all over the United States. The money's always good, but it's better to win and have the bragging rights."
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 pre-registration ends Feb. 9.
* NAPICS is the largest pizza-and-ice-cream centered tradeshow in the Midwest. The annual event draws 4,500 attendees and more than 200 exhibiting companies. Two full days of business-building seminars are available to all paid attendees.
To register for NAPICS: Attendee pre-registration is available for $25 until Feb. 23 — a 50 percent savings from registering at the door. All Sunday and Monday events, including seminars, one-on-one help from experts in the test kitchen, to World Pizza Champions demonstrations and much more, are included in the registration price. To register online, click here
. To register by phone, call 800-909-7469.