Carnival O’ Pizza 2012 Wrap Up!

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on December 4, 2012

The 7th Annual Carnival O’ Pizza has come and gone, and as usual we packed just about as much fun as we could possibly have into 7 hours.  There were contests, games, dancers, marching bands, artists, countless activities, and of course…. PIZZA!!  While just about everyone who came through the midway had the pleasure of enjoying a slice or two, there were a handful of folks who got just a little bit more full than the rest.

eating contest

Contestants begin their quest to win free pizza for a year.

The Extreme Pizza Eating contest proved to be just as heated and disgusting as usual, and in a twist of fate, we actually had our very first tie!

Yes, history was made as Chris “Chompy” Floyd and Randy Harrison consumed exactly the same amount (almost 2 large pizzas) in 30 minutes, resulting in both guys receiving the sweet reward of free pizza for a year!  This is Randy’s second consecutive victory, and an incredible 5th title for Chompy!!

Co Champ Chris Floyd celebrates

Co Champ Chris ” Chompy” Floyd celebrates

In a slightly less slobbery spectacle, pizza makers from local pizzerias squared off against our kitchen crew in challenges to throw not only the largest pizzas, but to make pizzas as quickly as possible.  Taking the cake (ahem… pie) in this year’s size competition was Sergio from Austin’s Little Deli throwing a pie that was an incredible 38.5 inches in diameter, way to go Sergio!!  In the blinding speed competition, Rockland from Austin’s Mellow Mushroom took down his competitors throwing 3 pies in an incredible 58 seconds!

tossing contest

The Dough Contest heats up as Colby from Mellow Mushroom and Wilver from Home Slice square off.

As the evening cooled down, the competition heated up as the masters of endurance in our Hands on an Eggplant Sub (HOES) contest powered through the day.  People came and went, bands played, dough was thrown, massive amounts of pizza was consumed, and the constant throughout the entire day was a small group of die-hards holding onto a 3-foot eggplant sub for dear life.  In a shorter contest than years past, Chad Garyet took home the title as the last person standing after just over 16 hours.  Chad is the proud recipient of a year’s worth of free pies, and has quickly become Home Slice’s most eligible dinner mate.

HOES in full battle

HOES in full battle

The finale of the day was our grand prize raffle drawing.  Among countless prizes raffled throughout the day, one lucky person became the most eligible dinner mate (sorry, Chad forgot you have a girlfriend) at Home Slice.  Pacifico Gouge became the only person on earth who can make a reservation at Home Slice this year.  Unfortunately, kids, we can’t share his digits with you, but if you see him out and about, you may want to buy him a drink or something.

reservations winner

Pacifico Gouge receives the grand prize, being crowned the sole person who can make reservations at Home Slice.

While we crowned many champions at the Carnival, the real winners of the day were the kids supported by our awesome charity, Austin Bat Cave.  We are so proud to say that the Carnival O’ Pizza raised 19,000 dollars to help this incredible organization.  The efforts put forth by the ABC team to help kids are mind-blowing, and we are truly honored to play a small role in the wonderful things that they do.

fun now bat cave

Austin Bat Cave is a non-profit organization that provides creative writing opportunities for youngsters in Austin.

Of course, the Carnival would never be possible without our sponsors:

StagLogo   dublinbottlingworks-1  uship-logo-colorGCO-000-CMYK-bl-rd   mcjlogo   RABC

And most importantly, none of this happens without all of you, and your incredible dedication to Home Slice and your community.  We are sincerely humbled and grateful beyond words to serve you.  Until next year, keep your parm shakers high and your wine glasses full!!!!


Photos c/o Amanda Elmore of Girlskill.


HOES Fundraising Pages!

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on November 9, 2012

As an effort to raise more money online for our awesome charity Austin Bat Cave, we have started an online fundraising campaign for our Hands on an Eggplant Sub contestants. Check out their pages, send them some love, and keep up with their progress!

Chad’s Page!!
Online fundraising for Chad Garyet's Hands on an Eggplant Sub Contest Page!

Fresa’s Big Chicken’s Page!!
Online fundraising for Fresa's Big Chicken Hands on an Eggplant Sub Contest Page!

Big Chicken is competing courtesy of our Homies at Fresa’s Chicken!

Pradel’s Page!!
Online fundraising for Pradel Bonnet's Hands on an Eggplant Sub Contest Page!
Pradel is competing courtesy of our Homies at Bird’s Barbershop!

Teajay’s Page!!
Online fundraising for Teajay Pierce's Hands on an Eggplant Sub Contest Page!

Teajay is competing courtesy of our Homies at Bird’s Barbershop!

Zarina’s Page!!
Online fundraising for Zarina's Hands on an Eggplant Sub Contest Page!

Zarina is competing courtesy of our Homies at Austin Motel!

Philly Sits Down with Chad Garyet, HOES Contestant Past and Present

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on November 8, 2012

I met with Chad Garyet and his girlfriend Nagisa Takahashi on last Wednesday at Home Slice. I met Chad for the first time at the 2010 Hands On a Eggplant Sub Contest, where he placed 3rd.  We went out to the back patio and discussed his participation in the 2010 Carnival, and his intentions to take the title on this upcoming Carnival 2012.

Chad places his hands on the giant sub in 2010.

Phil: Can you recall your fondest memory from the 2010 Carnival O Pizza?

Chad:  There are two, really. The first was when my Mom brought Battleship.  I played anyone. I played my Mom, my Dad, the other competitors. Everyone.

Phil: Nice. What’s the other memory?

Chad: It was that second morning you came by to watch over us from 4:00 AM – 6:00 AM and brought your guitar. It was really fun. You told us all those war stories from when you were a bartender in New York. Like the time you set yourself on fire…

Phil: Those were good times. Hanging out with you guys. Not so much the setting myself on fire part. Any moments of craziness in your time with the hand on the sub?

Chad:  Midnight of Sunday. This woman came by with a yappy little dog. You know, one of those tiny yap-yap-yap dogs. So there we are, where we’ve been for about 30 hours at that point, and up comes the woman with the dog. I pet the dog. So there I am, one hand in the sub and one hand petting this woman’s yappy dog and up comes this big German shepherd.  The German shepherd starts barking at the yappy dog. The yappy dog starts freaking out. The German shepherd starts lunging for the yappy dog. And there I am in the middle of it with one hand on the dog, and one hand on the sub.

Phil: How about a moment of clarity?

Chad: It was when I knew I wasn’t going to win. It was down to the three of us: me, Sonia, and Lauren. It was right after the point Lauren started feeling sick. She went white. I mean, WHITE. I thought for sure she was done for. But no. Lauren just kept on. Stoic.  I realized then and there I wasn’t going to beat her; and I realized second gets nothing better than third. I mean, I’d already won the bottle of wine for raising the most money. And I was staring at the tip jar. I kept thinking that I’d done enough, competed long enough. It kind of felt that taking second and losing was less honorable than walking away with third place on my own volition.  It was like a tactical move.

Phil: Any advice you want to give this year’s crop of competitors.

Chad: I’m going to compete this year so I’m going to have to take the fifth.
Chad and I talk off record regarding some alterations he’s making to his approach this year. He’s been busy thinking about this, people.

Phil: Can you tell us anything about preparation?

Chad: I’m going to stay off my feet until the last minute. Also, I’m not coming to the event until the last minute. Last time around I got to the Carnival right when it started @ noon. The competition didn’t start until 5:00. That was five extra hours of standing I didn’t need to do. The Carnival was really fun; don’t get me wrong. But I’m in it to win and I’m not doing any extra standing this year. I’m also going to stay up late and wake up maybe an hour before the competition. The sleep thing is a pretty big deal.

Phil: What about footwear?

Chad: I’m not going to tell you about this year (he told me; it’s pretty cool but confidential) but last time it was sandals and bare feet.

Phil: And how’d that work out for you?

Chad: Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

Phil: Why is this competition special to you?

Chad: Because before it was just a restaurant, and now I really know what Home Slice is all about, and that’s because I got to know it through that competition. I mean, everyone who works at Home Slice really seems to love it, to love the thing they’re doing. I know people who say it’s just another pizza shop, but they’re wrong. Home Slice is really pretty special.

Chad and his ever-supportive girl friend, Nagisa.

Phil: I gotta say, your support team was pretty impressive.

Chad: Yeah, my parents and friends are really awesome. My Mom spent like 10-15 minutes every day just rubbing my legs. Scott, my high school friend hung out through the entire first night while my parents went home and slept. Scott also took care of Miyaa (Chad’s cat). But that’s fair because I’ve taken care of his cat too.

Phil: Nagisa, are you prepared to stand by and support Chad through all of this?

Nagisa: I can’t drive. But I’ll get a ride from his parents and support him.

Phil: What frightens you in a competitor, Chad?

Chad: Sonia’s huge family for sure. I mean, there were ALWAYS there. Just so much support.  That was pretty intimidating. And Lauren’s stoicism. Her strength and perseverance. I’m pretty sure I’m going to win this year because Lauren isn’t competing.

Phil: What inspires you?

Chad: That same strength and perseverance. It was so amazing when she came back from feeling sick and just stuck with it. It was totally inspiring.

Phil: Even though you took third, do you still consider yourself a H.O.E.?

Chad: Absolutely. I’m infamous at the place I used to work for being that crazy guy who did that crazy thing. When I was doing the competition I started posting a pic an hour on face book. By the end I had tons of people following it, following me. People still look at those pics. People still recognize me from it.  But it’s bigger than that. Being a H.O.E. showed me what I could do, what I was capable of.

Phil: What was it like when you put your hand in the sub?

Chad: It was like cleaning dog poop. Except without the bag that you put your hand in to pick up the poop.  It wasn’t anything worse than I’ve dealt with before, really. And, actually, afterwards my hands were really soft for like a month. Like really nice and soft. People remarked on it.


Carnival 2012 Entertainment and Events Schedule!

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on November 8, 2012

What’s up Homies, as you know, the Carnival is going down on Saturday November 10th at Home Slice!  You might be wondering, “What even happens at this ‘Carnival’ thing I keep hearing about?”  Well, friends, wonder no more, here’s the run-down of the day’s contests and entertainment.  Come on down on Saturday, its going to be a blast!!

  • Gigantic Grand Prize Raffle Drawing  (6:30 pm)

Meet Tony Villani, Owner of Little Deli and Celebrity Judge Extraordinaire

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on October 30, 2012

I first met Tony Villani, the owner of Little Deli and Pizza, at the 2011 Carnival O Pizza. Tony came with two of his pizza makers, David and Caesar, both of whom competed in the Pizza Tossing Contests with tenacity and pride and was so inspired by the scene that he ended up writing a check to Austin Bat Cave on the spot. Tony will be one of our celebrity judges for the 2012 contests.  He graciously let me into his kitchen last week, fed me like family, and spoke with me like the friend and comrade in arms that he is.

The inside of the shop is pretty small, maybe 1000 square feet total. There are lines drawn on the door frame of the entry into the kitchen. These lines mark the height of neighborhood children, accompanied by their names and birthdays. The lines begin at two to three feet and reach to the top of the doorframe.  Hundreds of horizontal benchmarks, each telling the story of a family that had come to this shop to celebrate and annotate. As I looked around I saw each table, inside and outside, was occupied. Groups of three, groups of four, couples looking lovingly at each other, families with kids in strollers, young men with pitchers of beer. Everyone happy, everyone with food at their fingertips, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I went into the kitchen where there are a couple of tables next to the dried goods and sat down w/ Tony and his right-hand, David. His pizza makers were maybe six feet away, working the Marsal oven like they were born to do it. His sandwich makers were maybe 10 feet away in another direction, knocking out these amazing subs that are packed with some of the finest fresh cut meats I’ve seen in a while.  As each customer passed through the restaurant, they caught Tony’s eye, which sparkled with each customer he saw. He knows them all by name, and with each customer who passed, I could tell they all felt the same thing: Home.

“It’s a hole in the wall,”  Tony told me, “but it’s my five star hole in the wall.”

Tony’s commitment to quality and integrity is pretty amazing. He sources his ingredients from everywhere, never cutting the easy corner to get to the end. He buys what he loves, and why would you buy anything else, really? Tony told me, “When I finally decided to do this thing, to buy a running restaurant and follow my dream I knew I could either work a ‘job’ (he had been working at Dell) or do what I love.” He’s right; it’s kind of a no-brainer.

He’d been putting things into his “My Dream Restaurant” file folder since he was 18, growing up on the Jersey Shore in  Seaside Park, which is spitting distance from Seaside Heights (“Jersey Shore” filming location).  Tony worked the boardwalk as a kid, and what he wanted more than anything, all these years later, was to open a legit Jersey Shore Pizzeria. His “My Dream Restaurant” file had grown to be over two inches thick some eight years ago, before he even knew that the original Little Deli Owners (Jonathon and Lucretia) were interested in selling.

Tony grew up on his Grandmother’s cooking. She is, I suspect, exactly the Italian grandmother you are picturing.  The little woman who puts out a mountain of amazing food made from simple ingredients every Sunday, with an extra platter of pork chops just in case someone is still hungry.  He knew that was something he wanted to be associated with, something he could be proud to do.

“If you wake up in the morning, roll over, and say to your wife, ‘I know how we can make a lot of money,’ “ he told me, “this is the wrong business for you”.

Marie Villani, the owner’s grandmother

That mentality comes from Grandma’s cooking. If you are interested in making food to show off, Italian cooking isn’t going to satisfy you. If you are interested in bringing people together, sharing and loving and being family – then you are doing something worthwhile. The food is an expression of the love, passion, and commitment to family and community. The quality of ingredients and the care of preparation shout that from the mountaintops.

As we’re sitting in the back room we get a pizza delivered to the little four top nestled a foot away from the walk in cooler.  The crust on this pizza is OUT OF SIGHT, the crunch is legit, and the flavor on the dough is deep and intricate. As I look around his tiny kitchen I see two “bigga” starters he has working for the next day’s dough. A bigga is a kind of bread sponge that is made hours in advance of the actual dough. It is a painstaking and tedious process that most people in the business discard as being antiquated and useless. Not Tony.  This is what gives his dough that depth. Sure, it’s hard; but why would you do it any other way?

As we eat his delicious pizza, (which is followed by an mind blowing gyro with a home made tzatziki sauce and a side of their home made “Hot G” hot garlic sauce) we talk about the kind of work we do in the pizza and deli world.  We talk about how we have noticed that hoity-toity “culinary trained” chefs tend to think of the thing we do as sort of low-brow and disposable, at which we both have a laugh.  As Tony says, “I may be a Chihuahua, but I think like a pit bull”. Sure, neither of us have a bag of knives (and we certainly have respect for those cats that do), but for us it comes down to what the shop can do, not what we individually can do. When talking about his shop, he is never really talking about himself but the thing that’s bigger – his crew, his community. He sums it up perfectly in one sentence, “There’s something special here”.

Tony is an admitted Pizza fanatic.  He started working on his recipe in his house on Wednesday nights, years ago before he had a shop.  While he’d worked in restaurants for years, knew grill, knew fry, he didn’t know dough.  Although he didn’t know how to bake, he knew he wanted to.  He wanted to know how dough was supposed to feel.  Like how a grandmother makes dough without a recipe or a cookbook.  There’s a phrase for it: Salt of the Hand.  Tony wanted to be that grandmother, wanted his hand to have that salt, so he started cooking for a couple of friends at his house.

“You bring the beer, you bring the ingredients,” he told a couple of close friends, “and I’ll make the pizza”.

Within six months there were 25 people showing up to his house on a Wednesday night. He made pizzas on screens, pans, and pans with holes on them. And then he cooked on stone. There was no turning back from there.

He was cooking in a convection oven that just wouldn’t get hot enough. He figured out he could fake out the oven by turning it to the “CLEAN” setting and then killing the cycle half way in. This got his oven hotter than the oven thought it could be.  With this he was able to get closer and closer to the kind of pizza he wanted, that Jersey Shore pizza he had grown up with when he was eating his Grandmother’s endless supply of Sunday dinners.

It was his neighbors, Jonathon and Lucretia, who were the original owners of Little Deli. They had a buyer in line when he found out they were letting the restaurant go.  They hadn’t asked Tony if he was interested in buying them out because he wanted a pizza shop, not  a sandwich shop.  Time passed, the buyer fell by the wayside, and Tony was in line to pick up the space.

He lost 20% of the clientele when he took over, despite not changing anything for two years.  And then he found a way to put a pizza oven into his tiny 1000 square foot shop.

He moved walls, sacrificed seating, did everything he could do, and in the end brought his vision to fruition. This is Tony’s way…  He is that guy. It’s like his “flat grill”, which is actually an 18” Panini press. Regardless, he’s kicking out Philly Cheese Steaks w/ provolone not to mention the gyro that is seriously better than any other gyro I’ve ever had. He’s cooking in a tiny space, but with wide vision.  More importantly, he expands his menu to his taste, his love, and not to his seeming limitations. Honestly, it’s a kind of crazy person who looks at a Panini press and believes it will be a working flat grill. Crazy like a fox.

When we talk about sauce, or “gravy” as Tony’s grandma might call it, Tony’s truest self comes alive.  He talks about the quality of tomatoes, and the integrity of the people he gets them from.  He loves how they rotate their crops in the blends and the honest simplicity of ingredients.  “Simple is the best.  Consistency is everything”. While he had made sauce in every way possible he finally settled on a basic sauce that isn’t heated until it hits the oven with the pizza, due to the carmelization that occurs upon heating. Too much carmelization, and the sauce can be too sweet.  No matter what, though, the sauce has to sit for a full day before it’s good to serve, which allows the spices have time to mix and marinade. Sure, you have to wait; but honestly, what’s the rush?

And that’s the thing about Tony, and about Tony’s shop: each thing in there has a kind of care behind it that belies respect.  It takes time and patience to cut prosciutto razor thin, to make a bigga for dough, to make a “My Dream Restaurant” file folder two inches thick, to grow a shop into the place that a community depends upon and thrives with.

While Tony talks fast and still carries a definite Jersey Boardwalk energy, he is in no rush other than to make someone happy, make them feel at home, make them feel welcome, like they are sitting at his Grandmother’s table.  I am truly grateful that he sat me down inside of his shop and let me feel what that is like. I am blown away by the kind of deep knowledge he carries about dough. He definitely has the salt of the hand, and I am deeply, deeply honored that he has agreed to be a judge at this year’s Carnival O Pizza. I can’t wait for you to meet him.


Interview With Lauren Shugart, H.O.E.S 2012 Champion!

Posted in Carnival O' Pizza by robhomeslice on October 22, 2012

Philly gets the 2010 H.O.E.S action started, with Lauren looking calm, cool and collected.

Hi there. I’m Phil. I’m the Senior Kitchen Manager here at Home Slice Pizza and I am the luckiest guy in the world. The world. Two years ago I met Lauren Shugart, winner of the 2010 Hands On an Eggplant Sub (H.O.E.S) competition. When she was being interviewed prior to the competition, she was asked what set her apart, what made her think that she could win this challenge of endurance and will. Her response was short, sweet, and to the point: “I’m a champ.” She IS a champ. She was a champ before she competed and took the title for H.O.E.S. 2010. She was a champ when she won it. And she was still a champ last night when we met at Home Slice to have some slices, drink some wine (the Salice Salentino that was recommended by Ross. Thanks, Ross!), and chat about the Carnival past, and the upcoming Carnival O Pizza, which is coming up on November 10th, 2012.

Phil: Lauren, what is your fondest memory from the Hands On An Eggplant Sub competition?
Lauren: There are really two memories. The first was the cup of coffee. I love coffee. I tried not to drink much of anything during the competition and so I hadn’t had any coffee for the length of it. That cup of coffee that someone, I can’t even remember who, handed me that morning, it was delicious. The second memory was when you brought me into the kitchen, opened the oven doors, and you had me smell the bread that was baking.

Phil: I LOVE that moment. I recall it fondly too! It was early in the morning, hours before we open, and we were baking off the bread for the day. Both of my ovens were full of our bread. That smell, that smell of freshly baking bread, man, it just smells like hope, like anything is possible, like life is amazing. Because it is. I was really grateful to have been there when you took the title, and to share with you the thing that bakers get to experience every day before dawn breaks.
Lauren: It was really nice.

Phil: Was there a moment of craziness?
Lauren: Craziness? No. Crazy laughter? Yes. We laughed so much. So much. The Chad (Chad Garyet) was hilarious. Maybe we were giddy from sleep deprivation. At one point I had thought that the table we were standing at had moved. I mean, I thought that the table had been at the back of the restaurant, then at the side of the More Home Slice, then in front of More Home Slice.

Phil: Maybe your brain was inventing movement because you had been standing in the same place so long.
Lauren: Maybe.

Phil: Did you have any moment of clarity that came from all of that? Any kind of sweat lodge epiphany?
Lauren: Not really. There was a moment towards the end when I was feeling pretty nauseous. I was standing there, hand in the sub, and trying to figure out what I was going to do. Do I just lean away and hope for the best? Do I take my hand off and give up? It was pretty uncomfortable for a little while. I came pretty close to giving up right then and there, and I was pretty far in. It was only Chad, Sonia (Sonia Arellano) at that point. I really didn’t think I was going to make it and I’d come so far already. But then it passed and I was okay. Then I knew I was going to take it all the way to the end.

Phil: Which you did.
Lauren: Which I did.

Phil: Because you’re a champ. What kind of advice could you give the contestants this year?
Lauren: You don’t need all the stuff you think you want to bring. I brought an iPod; I never listened to it. I brought books; I never read them. I did bring a shoe box full of dog food.

Phil: A shoe box full of dog food?
Lauren: Well, a taped shoe box full of dog food. My dogs were pretty confused when I was putting it together.

Phil: Okay, what’s up with the shoe box and the dog food?
Lauren: Well, if you’re going to be standing for a long period of time it helps to shift your weight from leg to leg and to elevate your feet back and forth. I chose the shoe box because I could change the height by putting it either horizontally or vertically and change the position of my foot. I used the dog food because I needed to weight it down and I had a lot of dog food available. You know, because of my dogs.

Phil: That’s brilliant! Did you have any fear of attracting roving bands of feral dogs?
Lauren: No. But I think that could have worked in my favor.

Phil: How did you prepare for this kind of competition?
Lauren: I didn’t, really. I decided to do it a couple of weeks before the event. I had seen it on the Home Slice website and thought it would be a cool thing to do. So I signed up. Then the Sunday before the Saturday of Carnival I decided I should probably try standing for a little while to get a sense of what I was getting myself into. So I stood for an hour, and then I stopped. It was standing just like I remembered standing. No big deal. Bring on the competition.

Phil: What about footwear?
Lauren: Footwear is really important. I love camping and I’ve got this awesome pair of blue hiking boots I wore. They’re really sturdy w/ great support. And they’re blue. I do have to say that the fact that they’re hiking boots and have ankle support made a huge difference. Also I brought I yoga mat to stand on. I think Seth (Seth Mazow, Champion 2008, 2009) did that as well.

Phil: I had heard that Seth had BUILT his own yoga mat for the competition.
Lauren: That sounds like Seth.

Phil: So I gotta say, one of the things I love about your win was how Sam supported you throughout. You and she are just a great couple. Sonia’s family was supportive to her. Chad’s folks were for him. I know your Mom came and supported you as well, but it really seemed to me that Sam played a pretty big role in your support, which lead to your championship title.
Lauren: Yeah, she’s great. She put up with my mood swings. That was really a great comfort. That last day she was heading to work really early and she had stopped by the store to pick up some bananas for me. But the bananas weren’t ripe enough. They were green. I kind of lost it. I mean, I was really tired. But all I wanted was a banana and the bananas she brought I couldn’t eat. It really bummed me out. I sent her away and she was really sort of bummed out that I was so upset. But she kept texting me afterwards and kept encouraging me to keep on, even though I was clearly at my wits end.

Phil: Do you feel differently about pizza now then before? I mean, having eaten pizza free for a year did your discover anything about pizza that you didn’t know before?
Lauren: I’ve always loved pizza. Really the difference between then and now is the relationship with Home Slice that happened during that year I was Champion. When I would come in once a week, because I came in at least once a week, everyone was really cool, really nice. It was never like “Oh, here’s the girl who gets free pizza”. It was always like, “Hey! It’s Lauren!” That was really great. Also I got to see how you guys approach this really simple food for the art that it is. You care so much about every part of it. It’s so clear. So many people look at pizza as just disposable food. Just the kind of thing you order in the morning when you’re hung over (not that I’ve ever done that). Whatever. Point is that it’s more than that. Food is more than that. It’s kind of sad that people don’t really stop to eat, or stop to eat together, to share a meal, to share the experience. You guys do that really well. You guys love the food, the experience, the whole thing. It’s bigger than pizza.

Phil: Thanks! So are you going to compete this year?
Lauren: I was thinking about it but it falls on the same weekend as Field Biology Trip. It’s a bummer. If it weren’t for the conflicting schedule I would do it again.

Phil: What frightens you in a competitor?
Lauren: Nothing. There’s nothing in a competitor that would frighten me. Annoy me, maybe.

Phil: What inspires you in a competitor?
Lauren: Super annoying people.

Phil: How do super annoying people inspire you?
Lauren: Some people just need to be taken down a couple notches, Phil. Some people just need to be taken down.

Phil: Do you still think of yourself as a H.O.E.?
Lauren: Yeah, but I don’t want to be that guy. That “remember when” guy. That “remember me, wasn’t that cool” guy. But it’s definitely a big part of who I am, and what I can accomplish. The competition came around at a pretty pivotal part of my life. I was only really starting to make smart, adult decisions. And then I did the contest. I made a decision and I stuck by it. I followed through with it. I believed in myself. It was the decision to do things that are cool and not shitty. That served me well ever since.

Phil: What did it feel like the first time you stuck your hand in the sub?
Lauren: It was gross. I thought it would be hotter but it wasn’t. It just felt gross.

Phil: Did you choose left or right hand?
Lauren: Right. There had been some discussion about it. I’m right handed. A lot of people said that I should go w/ the left so I could keep my dominant hand free. But I thought that if I had to think about what I was doing w/ my left hand it would be better, keep me more alert. I thought I could control my dominant hand better and keep it in the sub. Of course it got tricky putting on and taking off my headphones. HEADPHONES, by the way. Use ear buds. They’re crappy headphones and bad for your ears, but trying to put on proper headphones w/ only one hand is pretty challenging. That’s why the robe was so awesome.

Phil: The robe! Right! I had forgotten that robe. It looked like a 50s housewife robe.
Lauren: It may not have been the cleanest robe but it added to my mystique…

Phil: No, I mean it just looked hilarious. Like you looked like The Dude.
Lauren: Right. It was pretty comfortable. And easy to put on and take off with one hand.

Phil: Is there something you would have done differently if you were going to compete this year?
Lauren: I would just bring less stuff. Robe. Shoe Box with dog food. Ripe bananas.

Phil: Why is H.O.E.S. special to you?
Lauren: Because of the relationships. Because of Home Slice’s relationship to its neighborhood. It’s commitment to quality. (You guys should open a shop up North, you know). Because of what it showed me I was capable of. That and every time I come to More Home Slice I get kind of sentimental when I go to the bathroom…

Phil: Huh?
Lauren: That’s the bathroom we got to use for our bathroom breaks. It became this very special and safe place for me. I could move my arms. I could spin around. I could stretch and breath. I could be alone. I still feel really romantic about that bathroom. I love it so much.

Phil: What’s your favorite topping on a pie?
Lauren: I love the clam pie. It’s amazing. I mean it’s so good. Also the pepperoni and mushroom is Sam’s favorite. Those are the two we normally get.

Phil: What’s the craziest pie you’ve ordered?
Lauren: There were some friends of mine who ordered this super over topped pizza even though I advised them against it. It had every ingredient. When it got to the table I looked at it and said, “No. No way I’m eating that”. It was just too much.

Phil: What combination doesn’t work?
Lauren: Anchovies, for sure. I mean I love them in your Caesar Dressing. But anchovies all by themselves? No. Broccoli is too bulky. Also, and I hate to say it, Fresh Mozzarella. It’s just too much. It’s too thick. It throws off the balance of the pizza.

Phil: What would you tell someone who knows nothing about the Carnival O Pizza?
Lauren: That it’s an amazing charity event, run by a local pizza shop, doing cool things that are unexpected. Phil, you always talk about the families, and the kids playing with dough, and this vibe of a bunch of people sharing this experience all at once. That’s what I would talk about. I’d talk about how it’s all these people who don’t know each other but who are really connected. And that it happens. It’s kind of amazing that it happens at all, really. But it happens for everyone, all at once, so they can share this thing, altogether. That’s what I’d say about the Carnival.

Phil: Thanks, Champ. You’re the bomb.
Lauren: You too, Phil.

With that, we ended our conversation. We had killed the bottle of Salice Salentino (again, great recommendation, Ross!) and went back to More Home Slice to grab a couple of slices of pepperoni for her to take home to Sam. We held hands for a second while she looked wistfully at the bathroom she loves so much. I said goodnight to the Champ and she went home to her loving girlfriend and dogs, who are still confused as to why she taped up that shoebox full of dog food.