2012 May: Pizza Expo: BRAVO

If you’re a student of the pizza industry, chances are you’ve probably heard of a little show called International Pizza Expo. If you were one of the nearly 7,000 people who attended, you experienced first-hand the knowledge, expertise and excitement the annual show brought to the Las Vegas Convention Center last March.

“This year we had attendees from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and 23 other countries,” says Bill Oakley, executive vice president of Macfadden Protech, parent company of International Pizza Expo. “We even had a group from the largest pizza company in Mongolia, Mr. Pizza, make the long trip to Las Vegas to experience everything Pizza Expo has to offer. As a result of their experience, they’ve already implemented some of the ideas they picked up at Expo.” Show organizers say that 25 percent of show-goers were first-time attendees, and the show designated a day devoted entirely to those looking to start pizzerias. “Based on the comments to date, it was a huge success with 684 attendees taking part in this day-long educational program,” Oakley says. “This stimulating day of educational sessions and workshops was followed by a reception where attendees could network with fellow ‘newbies,’ industry experts and event sponsors.” Keynote speakers for the three-day show included Nick Sarillo, owner of Nick’s Pizza & Pub in Illinois, and Marla Topliff, president of Rosati’s Pizza. Bruce Allar, vice president of meetings and conferences for Macfadden Protech, says the 2012 line-up of Pizza Expo speakers placed more emphasis on successful pizzeria owners, making International Pizza Expo a true peer-to-peer experience. “The buzz of activity never abated among buyers and sellers on the show floor, or among pizza professionals networking and learning at other Expo gatherings,” says Allar. “Pizza Expo maintained a powerful momentum from the opening bell on Tuesday morning all the way to its conclusion on Thursday afternoon.”

Contestants vied for supremacy in the International Pizza Challenge, a series of culinary competitions designed to highlight the best of the best.

In the traditional division, regional prelimary winners included:

Reál Varela, Brooklyn Pizza & Pasta, Los Angeles, CA – Southwest Region

Tim Silva, Pizza My Heart, Los Gatos, CA – Northwest Region

Mark Briand, Bondi’s Pizza, London, Ont. – Mid-America Region

Giovanni Gagliardi, Pizzeria La Leggenda, San Felice, Italy – International Region

Marlene Smith, Pizza Palace Plus, Emporium, PA – Northeast Region

Keith Coffman, Lost River Pizza Co., Bowling Green, KY – Southeast Region

Frank Baird, Franco’s Pizza, Chardon, OH – Wild Card

Silva took home the title of World’s Best Traditional Pizza Winner.

In the Non-Traditional Division, preliminary winners were:

Joleen Pisner, AJ Barile’s Chicago Pizza, Yucaipa, CA – Southwest Region

John Cammack, Lefty’s Grill, Nevada City, CA – Northwest Region

Rick Mines, Nima’s Pizza & More, Gassville, AR – Southeast Region

John Gutekanst, Avalanche Pizza, Athens, OH – Mid-America Region

Andrew Scudera, Goodfella’s Brick Oven Pizza, Staten Island, NY – Northeast Region

Tsutomu Inayoshi, Home Delivered Pizza, Aichi, Japan – International Region

Scudera took home the title of World’s Best Non-Traditional Pizza.

In the new American-Pan division, finalists included:

Shawn Randazzo, Cloverleaf Pizza of St. Clair, St. Clair Shores, MI – 1st Place

Matthew Heard, Humble Pie, Edmond, OK – 2nd Place

Alex Abellan, Pizza Zone, Victoria, BC – 3rd Place

The Italian-Style Division Finals Winners were:

Umberto Fornito, Italy – 1st Place

Saverio Ciampi, Italy – 2nd Place

Alessandra DeBellis, Italy – 3rd Place

Finalists from each division competed in a blind-box challenge in the Pizza Maker of the Year Bake-Off. The competition’s mystery ingredient, Cattlemen’s Carolina Tangy Gold Barbeque Sauce, proved to be a challenge for the four finalists, who presented the judges with unique pizzas created from a table of provided ingredients. Shawn Randazzo of Cloverleaf Pizza of St. Clair in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, walked away with the title of World Champion Pizza Maker and a cash prize. The International Pizza Challenge also pitted four former winners –– all industry experts in their own right. Tony Gemignani of San Francisco-based Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was named the “Best of the Best” Master Pizza Maker of the Year.

The popular World Pizza Games trials culminated at an event on Wednesday, March 13. Winners were:

1st Division Freestyle Acrobatics: Kazuya Akaogi, Red Japan Co., Japan

Masters Division Freestyle Acrobatics: Jay Schuurman, Pizza Rock, Sacramento, CA

Fastest Dough Stretch: Ingrosso Simone, Pizzeria Del Mille, Italy

Fastest Box Folding: Jimmy Xang, Pizza Guys, Rancho Cordova, CA

Largest Dough Stretch: Mario Sigmorile, Pizzeria Del Centro, Italy

Longest Spin: Kazuya Akaogi, Red Japan Co., Japan

Throughout the three-day event, show attendees visited sponsoring booths and turned in gamepieces for the $20,000 MEGA BUCKS Giveaway. Frank Sastano of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Savastano’s Pizzeria took home the cash prize.

“This year’s Pizza Expo was the biggest and best show ever, breaking records for attendance with 6,901 pizza professionals, 940 booths and tons of excitement,” says Oakley. “Words just don’t do it justice; you really have to experience Pizza Expo to understand the interaction that takes place between our attendees and exhibitors. Everyone is truly anxious and motivated to get into discussions about new products, new technology, the latest industry trends and hot-button issues facing the industry today.”