“This contest really wasn’t about pizza,” said Vincent Virga, president of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce during the June 7 Chamber social, at which winners of the first annual Bayonne’s Best Pizza Challenge were awarded prizes.
Despite the fact that local pizzerias were getting the awards, there wasn’t a pizza to be found at the Chambers’ Summer Kickoff Networking Reception at Villa Maria.
“This,” Virga said of the contest, “is about providing businesses with the incentive to promote themselves.”
Seated near the entrance, Virga greeted business owners as they came in, many of whom had come just to touch base with others as part of the Chamber’s effort to keep business people rubbing shoulders to share business strategies and to find solutions to business problems they might be having.
Business owners sometimes get complacent, Virga said between handshakes and greetings, and this is where the Chamber and its social events fit in.
“We’re here to motivate them, and through initiatives like this [the contest and the socializing], they find interesting ways to market themselves,” Virga said.
A business-minded Chamber for business people
Virga, who successfully launched his own financial firm uptown, took over as Chamber president late last year, bringing to the historic business lobbying group some new ideas such as the pizza contest – while continuing some of the programs instituted by his predecessor.
One of the things he wanted to make clear to business people is that there are basic tools for doing business, tried and true methods that had brought success to entrepreneurial efforts over the decades, in good and bad economic times, but that many people take things for granted and do not utilize these tools.
“We’re here to motivate them, and through initiatives like this.” – Vincent Virga
But he said, contests such as the pizza contest, pushed business owners to look more closely as strategies for promoting themselves, especially because this contest required patrons and the public to vote on their favorite pizza. Business owners had to pay attention to how they got customers to access the ballots in order to vote.
“One pizzeria made sure there was a flyer with every delivery,” Virga said. “The Mona Lisa put the web link on their customer receipts.”
Although the contest appeared to be a big success, getting a good response from the general public, Virga said this was only one piece in a larger approach which will include more business meetings such as the one he was attending at that moment where owners can gather to share ideas, and discuss issues that are common to them all.
“We also want to do small business education events,” Virga said. “Too often, people wonder how to become an entrepreneur, but don’t know how to go about it, or what to do, or what they should look for.”
Improving small businesses
To this end, Virga is hoping the Chamber will hold a business summit that will feature a number of experts in various fields, such as certified public accounts and other professionals who will share idea bout things such as cash flow, and the importance of development a good business plan. He also hopes to bring in representatives from the Small Business Administration that can advise existing business owners or those who have ambitions to become one on how to get things such as a small business loans – i.e., how to apply and what banks might be receptive.
Attorneys, he said, could cover some of the legal issues that small businesses need to address.
Virga is hoping to hold the summit at some point in the fall – although he hopes to hold a few smaller events, such as cocktail receptions, in the meantime.
When he took over as president of the Chamber, Virga set up a hefty agenda that included some of the previous president’s events such as Chamber to Charity get-togethers around the holidays.
“At the end of the day, we as chamber are something business owners can turn to if they have a problem, question or concern,.” Virga said. “They need to know that they are not alone in this, and that we are here to help, and by helping them we improve the whole business community.”
This, of course, still leaves the question as to who won the pizza contest. Based on customer ballots covering six categories the winners were:
The Big Apple finished first in two categories, Best Thin Crust and Best White pizza; second place in two categories, Best Regular Pizza and Best Specialty Pizza; and one third place with best Unique Pizza. Mona Lisa came up with first place in two categories, Best Specialty and Best Unique pizza; second place for Best Sicilian; and third place for Best White Pizza. La Guardiola won first place for best Sicilian pizza; won awards in all six categories including second place Best Unique and Best White pizza; and third place Best Regular, Best Thin Crust and Best Specialty. Pompeii won first place for Best Regular pizza and third place Best Sicilian. Naples won second place for Best Thin Crust.
The contest was collaboration between the Bayonne Community News and the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce, both of which hope this will become an annual event.