By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
History was made Oct. 4 in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, when all 400 tickets sold out for its fourth annual Pizza Showdown. But as with the miracle of the loaves and fishes, no one went away hungry.
“I think this is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” said Father Gene Daguplo, pastor, echoing the sentiments of many who have been coming to the event since its inception. “We’re doing our best to help one another, bringing the school and parish together, so people can learn what’s going on in the school.”
The Pizza Showdown was sponsored by the Holy Angels and St. Raphael Alumni Association, and organized by its steering committee, to raise funds toward their eighth grade student award fund, which provides graduation scholarships for St. Raphael School students to attend Catholic high school.
And apparently word has gotten out. The line to sample pizza from seven participating area restaurants began immediately as doors opened at 5:30 p.m., and continued throughout the evening. Each “judge” received a plastic token with which they could cast their vote for the best pizzeria, based on the samples they were able to taste from each restaurant’s table. The tokens were collected in cans labeled with each restaurant’s name, and were tallied at 7 p.m.
“We have some restaurants returning, and have been with us since the beginning, as well as some new participants,” said steering committee chairperson Colleen White. “There are usually five to seven [restaurants] who come every year, and they bring 25 pizzas each. They can bring whatever type of pizza they want – we’ve even had dessert pizzas some years.”
Villa Mannino Ristorante, Bordentown, received a plaque for the first runner up “Little Chef” award. New to the event and taking home the “Grand Champion” plaque for the most votes was Amari’s Pizza Restaurant, Hamilton.
“They donate their time, with staff working the event, and the pizza,” White explained. “And it’s an opportunity for them to market [their business]. It’s a win-win.” Each restaurant had an eighth grade Confirmation candidate helping at their station; the students also helped serve salad, drinks and dessert throughout the event, and presented door and raffle prizes.
Other pizzerias competing at this year’s event were LaPiazza Ristorante, Allentown; Mannino’s 3, Hamilton; Nino’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, Lawrenceville; Sabrina’s Pizza, Hamilton; and Sfizio Pizza on a Whim, Bordentown.
Gabriella Furmato, parish liason of the Ewing-based Catholic media apostolate Domestic Church Media, was on hand offering giveaways and information about DCM radio programming. One of its local programs, “Brothers in Arms,” is co-hosted by St. Raphael parishioner George Rose. Other tables were filled with baskets for a raffle, containing donations from local businesses.
Angelo Esposito, proprietor of Nino’s Trattoria and Pizzeria, said people have actually recognized their business as a result of attending this event.
“Community is what keeps us coming back,” Esposito said. “I’ve never seen it this packed before.”
Stefano Cifelli and Laryssa Llanio, employees of Mannino’s 3, were experiencing the event for the first time.
“There are more [people] than we expected,” Cifelli said. Llanio agreed, adding, “We’ve definitely learned what to do for next time, and what we could change.”
LaPiazza representative Tamara Stala said the event was important to “get our name out there, have people see us. I’m surprised at the variety [of pizza] the restaurants brought.”
Longtime parishioner, and St. Raphael School board member and alumn Tom Altobelli was also impressed with the number of pizza options available.
“The pizzerias seem more organized and better prepared every year,” he said. “It’s great marketing for them, and the variety is wonderful. It’s a good way to support Catholic education.”
Families filled the tables for much of the evening, with some SRS students still in their school uniforms – like Benjamin and Emma Worrell, who enjoyed dinner with mom Kate and family friend Denise Steber, whose eighth grade daughter also attends St. Raphael School.
Emma’s favorite part of the evening was “seeing my friends outside of school ... and dessert!” Ben proclaimed the meatball pizza his favorite by far.
“We’ll definitely come back next year,” Kate Worrell said, adding that the best part for her was “seeing the community involved with the parish and school together.”
“It’s such a great turnout,” Steber commented. “I like to see that all the eighth graders came to help, too.”
Parishioners Andrea and Rob Golding brought Rob’s mother, Pat, and their three daughers – Melodie, 10, and twin four-year-olds Maia and Meadow.
“This is our first year coming. It’s a nice setup for such a reasonable price,” Andrea said. “I want to support the [school] kids, being a mom myself.” The adults favored the pasta pizza, while their youngest girls enjoyed the plain pie – or as they called it, “regular.”
Even Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede made an appearance, quipping, “Who doesn’t like pizza?!” She has come to the Pizza Showdown for the past three years.
“I came as an avid pizza fan and a supporter of the school,” she said. “It’s a truly successful event.”