More than 2,000 turn out for pizza

Slice of the Valley Fundraiser

Ernie DiRenzo, a volunteer cook at St. Anthony of Padua Church, readies a pizza. Nineteen pizza vendors and thousands of attendees gathered on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. for the annual "Slice of the Valley" pizza challenge at the Metroplex Expo Center.

LIBERTY — “Expecting 1,000 people and they got 2,200,” Bo Wagner, performing as Frank Sinatra, told the crowd at the Slice of the Valley Pizza Challenge. “I blame that on me.”

Hosted by the Rotary Club of Warren, the Sunday afternoon event at the Metroplex Expo Center was packed full of people and pizza.

“This is our second year. I swear last year it was half of this. This is it, this is what we have left,” Nicole Brewer, owner of Tiger Den Pizza in Newton Falls, said, pointing to the final two slices of pizza and the show not even half over. “Last year, we ended up donating 10 sheets to the Warren Mission afterward.”

St. Anthony of Padua Church, known for its Brier Hill pizza, joined in the challenge for the first time this year.

“Today is really busy,” Ernie DiRenzo, a volunteer cook for the church, said. “We made 15 hot pepper pizzas and we thought that would be plenty; it was gone in an hour.”

At St. Anthony, volunteers make hundreds of pizzas early Friday mornings to sell at the church.

“We learn how to make the dough and the sauce, most of it from our parents and our grandparents,” he said. “They taught us how to do this.”

Belleria Pizza, the winner of the last two year’s pizza challenges, had customers surrounding its booth through most of the event.

“We’ve been involved for three years and every year it has grown,” Ryan Kelly, the owner of two Bellerias, said. “Obviously, I’m biased, but I believe we have the best pizza in the area, but there are a lot of great pizza places here today. I think every single big one in the area is represented.”

When they were asked to join the event, they made extra on Friday to bring.

“We got so busy Friday, we pretty much sold the pizza we were gonna bring,” DiRenzo said. “So we were down there 8:30 this morning making the pizza for today. We had some volunteers willing to come in on Sunday.”

The 19 pizza vendors were judged by eight national and local celebrities, including boxing star Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, NBC’s “The Voice” contestant and Warren native Dennis Drummond and former Cleveland Browns cornerback Hanford Dixon.

“I ate too much but it was great to see the turnout,” Tressel said. “I’m kinda a basic pizza guy. The cheese is important, and sauce. I’m not real fancy, so I thought there was some awfully good ones.”

Both the Judges’ Choice and the People’s Choice awards went to Ianazone’s Homemade Pizza, which has stores in the Warren and Niles areas. The awards for best plain / cheese pizza went to Ianazone’s pizza, first place; Russo’s Pizza in Mineral Ridge, second; and Cocca’s Pizza of Youngstown, third. The award for best specialty pizza went to Belleria, with stores in Warren and Cortland, for their chicken and greens pizza.

All proceeds for the event went to Trumbull Mobile Meals, Warren Family Mission, Rotary Foundation, Salvation Army of Warren and Courthouse Square Foundation Restoration Project.