By Susan Tebben
Get a lot of the Mahoning Valley’s pizzerias all in one place for a night of pizza sampling for a good cause, and the room will be filled.
That’s been the experience with the Mahoning Valley Pizza Cook-Off, benefiting the Potential Development Program, which serves local children with autism and developmental challenges.
“This is the fourth event and we’ve sold out every year,” said Sue Stricklin, co-coordinator of the event and board member for Potential Development.
Mr. Anthony’s in Boardman was packed to capacity with more than 1,100 people eating pizza from 11 pizzerias, some of which were new to the event and some that had been a part of it since it began.
“First and foremost, it’s for the children with autism,” said Steve Cocca of Cocca’s Pizza, a participant in the event for four years. “I actually did a tour of the school and that brought it to the heart.”
The proceeds from the event go to funding the School of Autism and the specialized preschool program for Potential Development, which has been working in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for 60 years.
“This allows us to provide the services for our two preschool sites and our kindergarten through eighth-grade school, and so we can try to expand the program to high school students,” said Paul Garchar, executive director of Potential Development.
The benefits, however, are not just for the program during its signature event. The businesses that participate and sponsor the event, including event sponsor Simon Surfaces, can get their name out. With their product front and center, the pizzas bring the best chance of networking for the owners of the businesses.
“We’re going against the best of the best [pizzerias] here, and we try to help everyone we can with donations so it’s good to come out and show how we’ve changed and help out at the same time,” said Dan Sullivan, who took over ownership of Tangier Bar & Pizza six months ago and brought the restaurant to the cook-off for the first time this year.
For all the pizza shops, the event serves as a way to interact with the community and to help out, but it’s also a way to get their products out to a new audience.
“We get to mingle with other pizzeria owners and develop friendships,” said Cocca. “But we can also showcase new pizzas and see what the customers would like.”
Last year, the event brought in about $33,000 for Potential Development, and the program was hoping to exceed that for this year.
Bruno Bros. New York-style pizza won People’s Choice in Best Pizza, and MVR won best overall by a panel of judges.
Donation totals were not available by press time Sunday.