Pizza Wars 3 was a jam-packed success.
The event, which started at 6 p.m. on Thursday, was held at Niles West High School. Within half-an-hour of kicking off, there was a line outside the building and some 800 tickets were already purchased. Hosted by District 219's Education Foundation for Excellence, Pizza Wars has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
But who won Pizza Wars 3? More than a dozen restaurants competed - some from as far as Wheeling - but in the end, it was downtown Skokie's very own Village Inn.
"After three years, it feels great to finally bring home the 'bacon,'" said Village Inn owner Randy Miles. "It's nice, you know. I feel vindicated after not winning the last two years."
Last year, Jet's Pizza brought home the 'bacon' and back then, the Michigan-based pizzeria had recently opened its doors in Skokie. Co-owners Mark O'Donnell and Kevin McConnell (they're cousins) said last year's award did a lot to boost their business.
"After winning, I would say a lot more people came in," Mark McConnell said. "We were only open for four months at the time and we were the new kid on the block. It helped in getting our name out."
What's fascinating about Pizza Wars is its rabid growth in popularity.
In January 2011, Patch reported that some 250 people attended the first ever Pizza Wars. Back then, Pequod's took home the first place prize. The following year, about 500 people attended and $4,300 was raised.
Last night, however, more than 850 came to sample pizza from a dozen different vendors. The Education Foundation's Chair, Matthew Robins, said he believes Pizza Wars 3 far surpassed its "aggressive" $8,000 goal.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we raised well over $10,000," Robins said. "The planning for this began right after the second Pizza Wars ended. And there was so much help from the students and community, teachers - it's all really unbelievable."
Robins added that students from District 219 helped promote the event through social media and by selling tickets at the school.
"Former Niles East graduates from Chicago and Wisconsin even showed up tonight," he said. "We're going to have to get a bigger space - probably the [Niles West] field house - for next year."
Yet it wasn't only ticket sales that helped shatter the $8,000 goal. Raffle tickets were also being sold for a dollar a pop. One volunteer selling the tickets said he'd already sold 800 within the first two hours of the event. Prizes ranged from $25 gift cards to t-shirts.
Another stream of revenue: Sponsors such as First Bank and Trust Skokie, Sport Clips, and Relief Medical Services, among others. The event was also selling some trendy Niles East High School t-shirts (see pictures above).
So, what was on display?
Have you ever had a pizza topped with blueberries and cranberries over a toffee streusel and a sweet cream cheese base? That's exactly what was being served at the Father and Son Italian Kitchen booth - a dessert pizza - and it was delicious.
"Not one person who tried it said they didn't like it," said manager David Bulwa. "The idea came from one of our bakeries in Chicago."
Father and Son has a variety of locations, the one present on Thursday was based out of Skokie, or at 9735 Skokie Blvd. While many of the restaurants were from Skokie, Niles, Morton Grove and Lincolnwood, one came from as far as Wheeling.
"We enjoy doing these things," said Wa-Pa-Ghetti's manager Judy Ferraro. "People love us because of our crust. And yes, we deliver out to Skokie, even though we're based in Wheeling."
A student band put on a live performance while visitors sampled the pies.
In the end, some vendors weren't surprised the event was such a hit.
"It's a reasonable night out," said Pequod's manager Chris Smith. "You get dinner and time with the family for $10. How can you beat that?"
About the Education Foundation -
Since 2007, the Education Foundation has awarded more than $120,000 in grants in the form of graphing calculators, refurbished computers, AP testing, college entrance exams, community college scholarship, and college campus bus tours for students who may not have considered higher education until their visit. Approximately three out of every ten District 219 students qualify for the Free or Reduced-Price Lunch program, a number that has grown dramatically since the Foundation was formed. More recently, the Foundation has also been providing school supplies and breakfast bars for students in need.