Wednesday, February 3, 2016

If You Can Make it (Pizza) in Columbus, You Can Make it Anywhere

Maybe you've heard the expression, “Will it sell in Columbus?” Which, can be translated roughly as “Those salt-of-the-Earth Midwestern German folk know something about the value of good knockwurst.” Despite all the traveling I’ve done in my 35-year writing career, the closest I ever got to Columbus, Ohio, is Dayton, home of the coolest aeronautical treasure trove in America, the U.S. Air Force Museum. The North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show at the Columbus Convention Center, which took flight Jan.  24-25, wasn’t anything like a museum. Think noisy, aromatic, thickly packed throngs of exhibitors and visitors showing off and sampling awesome pizza- and ice cream-making and marketing technology that never actually became airborne. That’s right, even the propeller-spinning decorative drones pitched by Marty with Vehicledrones didn’t actually fly—they’re delivery buggy roof-squatters designed to turn heads and get your pizzeria noticed.

Speaking of spinners, one of the highlights of the show was the Winter North American Pizza Trials sponsored by PMQ and the Groupon U.S. Pizza Team, where pizza athletes squared—and rounded—off in amazingly frenetic  pizza throwdowns tagged with misleadingly prosaic designations like “Largest Dough Stretch,” “Fastest Box Folder” and “Fastest Pie Maker.” Now “Freestyle Pizza Acrobatics” is more like it! This show-stopping event capped off NAPICS with a comeback tale for the ages. When I first met very-extremely-young-looking Scott Volpe of Tucson, Arizona (Never been there either) on the showroom floor, I asked him what pizzeria he worked for. “I run my own authentic Neapolitan pizza operation,” he replied with an endearing smile and the worldly assurance of an entrepreneur who has earned his pizza peel. When he told me he was 24, I said I had socks in my drawer that old, but he only repeated his determination to rebound from his previous year’s razor-thin second-place NAPICS Acrobatics finish and take it all. He proceeded to back it up with some new dough-spinning moves paced to a funky musical beat.

Volpe was a whirling dervish on the flour-sprinkled stage, dancing and striking theatrical poses, sometimes blindfolded, while propelling dough discs heavenward… behind his back…over his shoulders…and between his legs, with an aerial nimbleness that any F-15 Eagle driver could dig.
In a thrilling climax to a dramatic routine, Volpe took top acrobatic honors over veteran (but a whippersnapper himself) Bradley Johnson of Mellow Mushroom in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before Pizza TV packed up for our long road trip home, we rushed Volpe in front of our camera (Did you hear we’re launching a new streaming online video network later this year?) for his exhilarated explanation of how he became the Comeback Kid. The co-owner of Fiamme Pizza Napolentana credited the same values—hard work and commitment—that drive his mobile pizza oven business with fueling his dough-dealing dexterity.
It was better than the Super Bowl—and Columbus, home of THE Ohio State University, was definitely worth THE 10-hour jaunt in the new PizzaTVmobile. That’s true even though we had to outrace a raging blizzard northward from Mississippi and the PMQ Mother Ship. I even ate a couple of knockwurst—and threw back a couple of steins—at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus and Restaurant downtown (Columbus reminds me of Indianapolis, where I have been, lots). Believe it or not, I tasted not one teaspoonful of ice cream at North America’s biggest ice cream social —and I adore the stuff. Type Two Diabetes is crueler than the bone-chilling gale that blew down High Street in January in Columbus.



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