Pizza Festivals are popping up across the country. Learn about participating and organizing a pizza event.
Does your town have a pizza festival? If the answer is no, just wait. Festivals and events across America are popping up featuring all things pizza. One may be coming to your area soon. Or, you might even be the one to organize a pizza event.
Some big named pizza festivals launched in 2023. More than 35 pizzerias participated in Dave Portnoy’s One Bite Pizza Festival in Brooklyn, New York, last September. Gabriella Ottaiano knew her pizzeria, Calabria in Livingston, New Jersey, needed to be one of them. “It was important for me to participate in the One Bite festival because Dave Portnoy did so much for my family and continues to support us,” she says. “His 8.9 score on our Calabria’s Crunchy Thin®️ was life changing for us — we are now nationwide.”
Ottaiano says it was an amazing experience. “5k loyal fans showed up in the pouring rain. It was absolutely beautiful,” she says. The logistics of participating in such a big event went smoothly for the pizzeria and its team. “The event was very successful because it was well organized,” she says. “They teamed up with Medium Rare. They did a spectacular job! We had 2-3 months to prepare and they provided an entire team for us for each pizzeria. They handled everything from building out our booth to handling the equipment.”
Organizing a Pizza Event
Pulling off a big pizza event can be a challenge, so we tapped two organizers in the pizza business, Tony Gemignani and Scott Wiener, to get into the weeds with organizing and logistics.
Tony launched the San Francisco Pizza, Bagel and Beer Festival on a North Beach street next to Tony’s Pizza Napoletana last August. But he’s not stranger to executing large-scale events like the Guinness World Record for the Longest Pizza in the World.
Scott is a veteran pizza event organizer. He started Slice Out Hunger in 2009 with its $1 Pizza Party in NYC. What began with $500 fundraiser has grown to multiple campaigns raising more than $1 million to fund hunger relief efforts.
Why Start a Pizza Festival?
Pizza festivals require a huge amount of time, money and effort, but the rewards can be great. The time was right to introduce the San Francisco event. “It brings a camaraderie between all the pizzerias within that city or area,” Gemignani says. “It also celebrates how amazing pizza can be in your community. We were able to raise $90k for five different charities.”
Pizza Festival Event Logistics
Organizing events can be a full-time jobs itself and requires months of planning. Even with 14 years under his belt, Wiener says, “Slice Out Hunger’s $1 Pizza Party is a beast to put together. There are city permits, health permits, insurance, volunteer jobs to coordinate, training for volunteers, equipment rentals, and of course the biggest piece of the puzzle is wrangling all the pizza makers. We spend at least four months prepping events we produce. Once the event structure is in place, we can work with sponsors to cover costs and create custom activations for them. Oh, I almost forgot about ticket sales. We have to sell tickets or the whole thing’s a bust!”
When an event is in its inaugural year, the logistics of getting pizzerias to participate can be daunting. “It took a lot of time and effort, especially when a festival may be new to a city, and the pizzerias have never participated in one before,” Gemignani says of the SF festival. “It’s a challenge explaining what it could be and how great of an experience it can be to someone who’s never done it. There are a lot of e-mails, phone calls and text messages back-and-forth, trying to get participants all year long before the big day.
He adds the sponsor component is key to the event. “A smooth transition consists of communication between the organizers, and the pizzerias to make it as streamlined as possible,” he says. “What’s also important is the support we get from sponsors to help pay for so many things. A budget for a pizza festival is quite large especially when you’re donating $90,000.”
In addition to sponsors, Tony says, another vital component is “having the right team and local organizations that support [the event],” he says. “Your festival is very important. Having a great festival coordinator is important. We had Nick Figone he and his team from the SF Italian Athletic Club and my team, along with 100 volunteers. If it wasn’t for them and the year of organization. It wouldn’t have been a successful event. I can’t thank them enough along with our sponsors, who made it such an amazing day.”
Want to organize your own Pizza Fest?
If the logistics haven’t dissuaded you, Gemignani and Wiener offer some advice to hosting a successful pizza event.
Gemignani found that getting support from local officials and state politicians is beneficial, especially when you want to close a road for the event.
Wiener suggests that it does get easier after year one. He offers some sound advice based on his experience. “We just start the process earlier and have a checklist for what has to happen and when it has to happen,” he says. “Scheduling all the beats has kept us on track. The first event is always the hardest, after that it’s just endless tweaking. But once the public knows your event it’s much easier to sell tickets because of the awareness you’ve built. Also a good practice is to communicate everything super clearly on the website and tickets from rain dates, cancellations, inclusions, extras, etc.”
Want to participate in a local pizza festival?
Not ready to host a pizza event? When executed effectively and keeping your food quality on point, participating in a large pizza event can introduce your product to a new audience.
Scott Wiener, who founded Slice Out Hunger offers the following advice for pizzerias participating in events:
- Read all the e-mails the event producer sends you. All the information you need is probably in those e-mails and on the event website.
- Show up early on the day of the event to scope the space and prep your food before the rush.
- Remember that this is your time to showcase your food to new customers so go all out. If you have a pizza you finish with Parm or arugula, make a show of it!
- Make the most of your position at the event.
DENISE GREER is Executive Editor of Pizza Today.