Minds behind the pizza at Righteous Slice prepare for competition season
REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI) - The wood-burning oven is fired up in Rexburg as Bill and Cheryl Crawford, along with a few select employees, prepare for their upcoming competition season. Their first stop will be at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas Nevada in late March with plans to attend two pizza-making competitions in Parma, Italy and the birthplace of pizza, Naples.
As they prepare for the season, Bill Crawford reflects on the road it took to become a participant in these events.
"When we first started, it was rough. We had some real fanatics, people who just loved us. We used to be in the farmers market down in the summers here. And so we had a small following and those people were really critical to us making it because, without their support, I don't think we would have made it," he said. "Neapolitan pizza, most of the people in Rexburg didn't know what it was, didn't understand it. We get complaints that it was burnt when it was cooked normally."
He added another challenge was getting employees up to speed.
"In Italy, the average pizza maker will make 3,000 pizzas before a pizzeria will let them serve a customer. And we just didn't have that luxury here," Crawford said.
Crawford says since opening, it was about a year before he started participating in the expo though he had been going as an observer long before that.
"I started going to these expos kind of as a wannabe, wanted to learn, wanted to see what it was like. But I love this industry. And every time I went, I just felt like I was with my people. And I just love that part of it. The competition, as I started doing those after we opened our permanent location in 2018, and 2019 was my first competition and, I felt like I did just fine. You know, I didn't embarrass myself. It was something that helped me get better."
He says while attending, the goal is partly to win as with any competition, but Crawford says his eyes are on a bigger picture.
"But my goal with doing them is to push myself to get better, to understand how pizza works, what can I do to improve the quality, the flavor combinations? I used to spend a lot of time on that, but after my last competition last year, I spent almost a year working exclusively on pizza dough, like a year of How does dough work? How can I make it better and crispier and how do I cook it? How do I prove it? What are the treatments I get? What kind of flour should I be using? So I've been experimenting nonstop for about a year, almost exclusively on the dough with a few changes to the cheese in the sauce."
Crawford will be joined by two of his employees on this trip to the expo. He says in order to come, they had to earn their spot. This was done by an in-house competition that would help the winners have some experience going into the competition on what it was like.
Ian Foster is the general manager of the Righteous slice, and after going to the competition last year is hoping to do a bit better.
"Last year, I didn't do quite as well as I thought I would. But this year I think I think we're going to take a lot of accolades over this," Foster said.
Foster says part of what makes him so thrilled with being able to go into the competition is it has made him interested in pursuing a future in pizza, something that until the last competition he went to, he hadn't fully considered.
Sariah Daly is the Inventory and Ordering manager at Righteous Slice and says its impart due to her mentors in the art of pizza making that helped her feel confident as she prepares for the trip.
"I have a great team like I have great mentors, teachers like. I think that's why what made me fall in love with pizza making so much is the great teachers I've had here and the passion that they have," she said.
Daly says seeing that passion in action is inspiring.
"I think the spirit and the passion, I haven't seen a restaurant or anywhere that's quite as just spirited and inspiring as this place and we're always growing we're always experimenting. I think the changes can be overwhelming to some people, but I find them very exciting," Daly said.
Crawford says his passion, which is being noticed by Foster and Daly, started 10 years ago when he was attending different expos and absorbing as much as he could.
"Running a pizzeria in Rexburg, Idaho, where this does okay. But, you know, if we really wanted to make the big bucks, we'd probably go somewhere else. So to me, it's all about the quality of life and how much can I bless the people around me. So is what I'm doing a blessing to my students, my family, my employees, and the guests that we serve? And that's what I really focus on," he said.
Crawford adds the competitions he will attend in Italy have always been a dream of his since he started making pizza.
"For a long time since I graduated from my first pizza school, I wanted to participate in one of these World Pizza championships in Italy," he said. "And since I didn't have my own pizza place, I really wasn't eligible. And then last year was the first year I was eligible and it hit at a convenient time for me to be able to go over to Italy."
Crawford's passion for pizza will be heading to Vegas toward the end of March, and then in spring and again in summer, he will head to Italy to follow his passion and learn even more about it.