Every year, pizza chefs from around the world gather in Las Vegas to compete in the World Pizza Games, the Olympics of pizza, if you will. The spirited competition takes place at the International Pizza Expo, a massive celebration of all things pizza that blows through the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center every spring. Piazzolos who spend their days and evenings all year long tossing dough, crafting primo pizzas, and, yes, folding pizza boxes, finally get a chance put their skills to the ultimate test in five events: fastest dough stretch, fastest pizza-box folding, master acrobatics, largest dough stretch, and a pizza triathlon.
Pagliacci Pizza has held a company-wide skills competition since 2008. In 2017, we aligned our contest with the World Pizza Games rules, and sent the two winners on a three-day all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas for a chance to compete on the world stage in the dough-stretching competition. Last year, we added fastest box folding to our games, for a total of four competitors.
This year, 50 crew members entered our competition for the four spots on the podium. The showdown was Wednesday, January 16th at our Mercer Island store. Jeff Maneval, Field Manager, and the man responsible for Pagliacci’s skills competition over the last five years, managed the stopwatch. With high stakes and fast-paced action, there was plenty of excitement for the crowd of spectators.
Each contestant in the dough stretching category took their turn standing before a long table covered with flour. Jeff placed five dough balls on the table and five 12-inch pizza screens. The contestants strategically stretched the dough balls to completely cover each screen as fast as they could, without any holes. Flour-coated hands pressed and spun disks of dough in a frenzy. Josh Vacknitz, who had qualified to go to Las Vegas the last 2 years, stood in second place. To qualify for a third year, all he needed was for the final challenger, Sherif Abdalla, to come in at a time slower than his.
Jeff says, “When Sherif came up, I told him, all you’ve gotta do is beat Josh’s time and you’re going to Vegas. He was the only guy I could say that to because he was last. And sure enough, he beat out our perennial winner.”
Sherif works at our Lake City store and his father is a long-tenured delivery driver for Pagliacci (his brothers have also worked at the company. He posted the winning time of 42.41 seconds. Maicol Gomez, from Crossroads, took second place with a time of 45.30 seconds.
The box folding competition was, needless to say, much less floury. The rules are straightforward: fold five boxes as fast as you can, fastest time wins. The suspense didn’t measure up to the dough-stretching contest simply because last year’s winner, Mark Bell, totally killed it.
Jeff says, “Mark won in 17 seconds. He beat the next closest by over four seconds, which is pretty significant. That time should put him close to number one in Vegas, judged on what we saw last year. He’ll represent Pagliacci for two years in a row now. Some of our guys took over a minute to fold five boxes.” Jake McCornack, from Kenmore, took second place with a time of 21.69 seconds.
On March 5th, our four winners, Sherif, Maicol, Mark, and Jake, will fly to Las Vegas to compete in the World Pizza Games! The GMs of their locations will be there to cheer them on. They’ll also take in a show and enjoy some fabulous meals. Whether they bring home a medal or not, they’re all champions in our eyes. Best of luck in Vegas!