'Pizza Wars' coming to Naperville
Funnel cakes were a moneymaker for the Naperville Noon Lions Club for roughly two decades, but now the group is turning to pizza.
With the first Naperville Pizza Wars, the service club hopes to bring in more money to support people with vision or hearing loss than it had been making in recent years selling funnel cakes at the Exchange Club of Naperville's Ribfest over the Fourth of July.
The new Pizza Wars is scheduled for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Naperville Central High School, 440 Aurora Ave. For a $10 ticket at napervillepizzawars.com ($15 at the door), each attendee can sample a thin-crust slice or square from "nine of Naperville's finest pizzerias," said Bob Hull, Lions Club publicity director.
Sampling will run 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., then club members will compile attendees' votes for best sauce, best crust and best pizza, with the winners to be announced at 8 p.m. Hull said it should be a family friendly occasion with rivalries and bragging rights baked right in.
Pizzerias feel the same way.
Braconi's Restaurant & Pizzeria, in business for 15 years under owner Bill Paus, is a natural to join the competition because it's where Lions members host their weekly luncheons. The restaurant plans to bring its "Braconi's Signature" pizza with sausage and basil atop a honey-herb wheat crust that Paus says "nobody else does," along with samples of other specialty pies. Capitalizing on the "Star Wars"-style theme could be part of the fun.
"One of my employees made a good comment -- He said, 'We're like the Darth Vader of pizzas, and we want to create an empire and rule the galaxy,'" Paus said.
The route to galactic domination could be through triangles, Paus said. They're easier to eat than typical tavern-cut squares and can give a better shot at the best crust title.
"You get a little of the middle of the pizza and the edge so you get a full taste of the pizza and not just a square where you get the center or the end," Paus said.
While Braconi's is going specialty and signature, Uncle Pete's plans to keep it simple, owner Jay Becker said. He'll be bringing the classic cheese, sausage and pepperoni pies that have kept his store in business for 40 years in Naperville after it was established in 1947 in Chicago.
"I'm just going to stick with the basics," Becker said.
Uncle Pete's has participated in pizza wars in the past with North Central College, and this type of event also goes on in Lisle and Downers Grove, organizers said. Bringing it to Naperville offers a new chance for a friendly battle that also involves Aurelio's Pizza, Cassano's Pizzeria, Giordano's, Little Italian Pizza, Little Pops New York Pizzeria Trattoria, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria and Rocco's Pizzeria.
"We've been in business against each other for quite a while, so it sounded like something interesting," Becker said.
Pizza could become the Lions Club's fundraising food of choice since the club realized it was time to give the funnel cakes a rest. The club used to make roughly $20,000 a year selling the fried and powdered sweet treat at Ribfest, but last year's proceeds only totaled $4,000, Hull said.
Things started to change when Ribfest organizers separated many of the food vendors from the main music stage, placing them in different sections of Knoch Park.
"Our profits have gone down and down because the Ribfest has gone more into a music venue rather than a food venue," Hull said. "We did really well in those earlier years. As it was declining, the effort put into it wasn't worth the return."
The Lions Club raised roughly $225,000 total last year, the majority of it from the annual Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving, which drew roughly 7,000 registrants. With those proceeds, the club helped 325 people with vision or hearing exams or services, most of them students or seniors. The club also donates to the Federation Fighting Blindness, the National Federation of the Blind and roughly 30 other Naperville-area nonprofit organizations.