Ron Bencivenga, who moved to Las Vegas from Brooklyn four years ago, is a self-proclaimed pizza fanatic who hasn’t been able to find a slice here he really likes.
So when daughter Karen Savarese saw an online post for the inaugural Las Vegas Pizza Festival, she bought tickets for him and herself as well as her husband, Dave, her mother, Sheila Bencivenga, and her sister, Suzanne Bencivenga.
“I told them we need to eat $200 worth of pizza,” Savarese said of the $45 tickets.
On Saturday afternoon at the Industrial Event Space on Industrial Road near Sahara Avenue, they figured they got their money’s worth, as about 20 local pizza makers showed their stuff to an estimated 1,500 people. The pizza makers were spaced around the venue’s outdoor area, with a bar in the center and picnic tables and benches for seating. Drinks were included for those with tickets to the indoor, air-conditioned VIP area.
Ron Bencivenga said he’d tried most of the pizzas at the event, and found them “so far, very good.” Ironically, the one he still had to try: Brooklyn’s Best.
“What better way to spend some family time than at a pizza fest?” Karen Savarese said. “I’m very impressed. For the first year, it’s very well organized.”
She also liked that attendees were given pizza boxes for carrying their slices and were invited to fill them up to take home.
The one downside to the event was that parking in the mostly industrial area was hard to come by, but Savarese said she got an advance email recommending the use of ride-sharing services and offering a free drink coupon to each passenger who used one.
Sheila Bencivenga said she liked that the pizzas were all different — some-thing the organizers ensured — and that every slice was hot, with a steady stream coming out of the ovens.
“What you can definitely say is we’ll be back next year,” Savarese said. ” I hope this becomes a regular thing.”
Matthew Gucu and his wife, Pamela, who were there with their small children, were both concise when asked why they’d attended.
“Pizza,” he said.
“Festival,” she completed.
He said he especially appreciated that tickets for an adult with one child younger than 8 were only $5 more than a regular general admission ticket.
“If you have kids,” he said, “it’s always an incentive to do something if you can bring your kids and don’t have to pay a lot for them.”
John Arena, one of the organizers of the festival under the auspices of the Las Vegas Pizza Alliance, said he was grateful for the exposure the festival brought to the participants.
“I think people are going to really start to appreciate pizza in Las Vegas,” Arena said.
Most in attendance Saturday, such as Ericka Sims and Armando Alejandro, apparently already do.
“I’m so happy and disgusted with myself at the same time,” she said with a laugh.
He was more succinct.
“This,” Alejandro said, “is the best day of my life.”