By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — AMHERST — If there’s one thing Western New Yorkers are proud of it’s their pizza, though choosing a favorite purveyor of the baked goodness is often a contentious topic.
And on Tuesday night, many of the very restaurants often the subject of debate among locals were all in one spot.
For the 12th year, Pizza Fest was held by the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas, meaning the Classic’s V Banquet Center on Niagara Falls Boulevard was packed with 400 people who brought their appetites.
By the end of the evening, as a vivacious crowd quieted, with many slumping in their chairs after downing slices and wings from 13 of the area’s best pizza joints, everybody left a winner, according to Joyce Santiago, executive director of the chamber.
What started as a fundraiser has turned to a growing cultural entity in the Tonawandas. Edith Koerner, 85, who lives in the town, said while she has heard of the festival for years, it didn’t occur to her to attend until she received the encouragement of a friend, who came along with Koerner and her husband.
“It was so good,” Koerner said, as she dropped two colorful red and yellow ballots into a box that would later decide the winners of the “People’s Choice Awards” — one for pizza and the other for wings. Another 10 judges made up of local politicians and other community leaders decided the official victors.
Koerner voted for Flora’s Cafe, located in three Budwey’s Supermarket locales. Though she has been a regular shopper at the supermarket for decades, she wasn’t aware of what its cafe, named after owner Frank Budwey’s mother, had to offer.
“I shop there all the time but never tried their pizza,” she said. “I give them first prize.”
Bill Donnelly, who is the cafe supervisor for Flora’s said the reaction from Koerner really summarizes the point of the event. While Budwey’s has participated since 2004 presenting new dishes, exposing them to those who haven’t tried them is a big part of the evening.
“There’s people coming out who might not know about us,” Donnelly said, while adding that lowering the price from $20 last year to $15 in 2013 for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza may have upped attendance this year.
For the Lumber City Pizza Company, which opened inside the former Pizza Junction building on Erie Avenue in early January, the festival held even more importance. While Budwey’s is already established in the region, the fledgling business was hoping to make a name for itself.
That concept appeared to work said Kayla Ormerod, an employee of Lumber City Pizza, who noted that 13 half-sheets were already disposed of midway through the event, when she had to text headquarters to rush over more provisions. How many more would they bring?
“All of them,” Ormerod said. “They couldn’t believe it.”
That sentiment was seconded by David Muscoreil, owner of Just Pizza and Wings on Division Street. While the franchise is well-known in Western New York Muscoreil said he only began in the Lumber City in January 2012.
“It’s important to be able to do something like this,” he said. “We’re the new kids on the block and I want to become a local favorite and to introduce myself.”
Trudi Gulla, who came to support Dave’s Pizza Joint, also a competitor on Tuesday, said she was impressed by the number of people who came to the festival.
“It was a really nice night,” Gulla said. “It’s a great way to mingle and network.”Judges -- Pizza 1. Little Caesars, Three meat deep dish 2. Mister Pizza, Stuffed hot pepper 3. Papa John's, Chicken Cordon Bleu Judge -- Wings 1. Mister Pizza, Italian wings 2. Cafe Banchetti, Barbecue with homemade blue cheese dressing 3. Just Pizza & Wing Company, Blackberry barbecue People's Choice -- Pizza 1. TC Wheelers Bar & Pizzeria 2. Budwey's Flora's Cafe 3. Lumber City Pizza Co. People's Choice --Wings 1. TC Wheelers Bar & Pizzeria 2. Buffalo Wild Wings 3. Lumber City Pizza Co. Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.