Pizza Expo Competition Preview: Jimmy Hank Pizza

Pizza Expo Competition Preview: Jimmy Hank Pizza
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Having competed at Pizza Expo, Jimmy Hank knows what to expect. His first Pizza Expo was in 2022, and it was the first one since the pandemic shutdown. Attendance was light due to international restrictions, but nothing can bring a pizza party down! Jimmy Hank shares with LloydPans his take on the growth of Pizza Expo since that year, and he opens up about why LloydPans is his pan of choice for this year’s Pizza Expo competitions. 

LloydPans: What prompted you to check Pizza Expo out?

I went to see what it’s all about. I remember seeing pictures from the one right before the shut down, and I thought it was really cool and I wanted to experience it. It was still a fun Expo [despite the pandemic], getting to meet everybody that I’ve met through Instagram and other social media means. 

LloydPans: What’s the most positive change you’ve seen since then?

I think this is pandemic related, too — seeing the big vendors being more receptive and open to talking to us small guys who don’t own a pizza shop. We only do it on a part time basis, like pop ups. With that respect, some of us do have pretty large social media presences. I think they’re really seeing that value; this is a totally new market that they weren’t really open to before. We might not buy thousands of pounds of flour or hundreds of pounds of pepperoni per week, but we still do a fair amount and we still promote it. I have relationships now with Hormel, and before COVID that would never have happened. I think that’s one of the big positives I’ve seen. 

LloydPans: What are you most looking forward to for Pizza Expo 2024?

One thing I’m looking forward to is the Ooni competition. Ooni did a ton of business over the pandemic because people were making pizzas at home — they have all their ambassadors and influencers who work with them. This competition is going to open up a lot of opportunities where people can see what these ovens can really do. I’m going to be competing with my Ooni friends side-by-side; we’re going to be competitors, but also we support each other. 

My other favorite part of Expo is hanging out with my pizza friends. It really is our yearly family reunion. We hang out the entire time, not just on the show floor — three or four days of a reunion of some of our best friends. 

Third, I would say new ingredients and products and getting to see what the new trends are. What’s everybody talking about? What’s the next hot pizza style or topping combination? Last year it seemed like plant-based and vegetarian/vegan options were huge. Before that was Detroit-style: Expo is ahead of the trend. You’ll see those trends come out a year or two after people are talking about them at Expo, so it keeps you ahead of the curve.

LloydPans: What led you to add competitions to your Pizza Expo repertoire?

When I was at the first Expo that I attended, I was intrigued by it. It was cool to see people doing their thing, and I learned a lot by watching people. @eddiespizza412 – we became really close; I really look up to him as a mentor. He’s been competing for a number of years. He told me: ‘Just do it, what do you have to lose?’ He helped me out with tips and pointers — how to fly with your dough and how to pack ingredients. I owe a lot to him.

LloydPans: How do you decide which categories to compete in?

The first year I waited too long to sign up, and as soon as they released competition sign ups a lot of categories filled up. I traditionally will do Pan because I do Detroit-style — that category filled up. My next option was Non-Traditional. It’s a huge catch all for anything goes. There’s no rules: You can do Pan, Neapolitan, Tavern — any style you want with any toppings you want. The other cool thing about Non-Traditional is they do regional rankings. You could place 20th in the nation, but you could place in the top 3 in your region, and they have regional prizes. This year I got in early, so I got in for Pan and the Ooni Pan competition. The Ooni one is so small; they limited it to 15 people probaby because of needing to have the ovens.

LloydPans: Any competition secrets you care to divulge?
I have a list of what I’m thinking of competing with, but I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do. I have a running list of combinations and toppings I want to do. I really like taking sandwiches and other foods and deconstructing them and adapting them to pizza. It’s something along those lines … but that’s all I can say. 

LloydPans: Why are LloydPans your pan of choice?

It basically comes down to performance. You can throw anything at those pans; nothing sticks to them. They bake consistently every time. I can’t even tell you the number of pizzas I’ve made in my pans. I have 70 8x10 pans now. I started out with four when I was making pizza in my home oven. It just keeps incrementally growing. Lovina always gives me great service and gets them out super fast. I’m invested and I’m definitely committed to them — the value is there because you can buy a pan that’s half the price, but it’s not going to perform the same and you’re not going to get as consistent of a bake. I wouldn’t want to use any other pans professionally. 

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