Dabo's Pizza Party a huge undertaking for all involved


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20,000 fans are expected in Death Valley on Sunday. <span style=Photo by Joshua S. Kelly / USATODAY">
20,000 fans are expected in Death Valley on Sunday. Photo by Joshua S. Kelly / USATODAY

CLEMSON – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced to the world Tuesday that his College Football Playoff pizza party will go on as planned, regardless of whether Clemson wins or loses Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game against North Carolina.

It will be a massive undertaking for Papa John’s and the company’s local franchises.

Clemson sits atop the College Football Playoff rankings (the last regular season rankings come out Tuesday night), and when the Tigers debuted as the nation’s top-ranked team a month ago Swinney made a promise to have the world’s largest poll party on December 6th if the Tigers are still undefeated.

“The only poll that we’re excited about is Dec. 6, and I promise you we’ll have the biggest poll party you’ve seen,” Swinney said. “We’ll open up Death Valley and serve pizza to everybody. That’ll be a time to celebrate a poll. Until then it doesn’t matter.”

However, Swinney told the media Tuesday that the poll and pizza party will take place, win or lose.

"We are gonna have a pizza party on Sunday," Swinney said. "That's gonna happen and this thing kind of took a life of its own somehow but it’s kind of hard to plan for a pizza party if you do not know the outcome. You can't just plan a pizza party if you win the game because you are not going to know until midnight or one in the morning. That's a lot of dough. As the season has panned out, the important thing, regardless if we win or not the game Saturday night, this team deserves to be celebrated. It really does. We are going to have a pizza party."

Clemson officials said they expect a crowd of 20,000 people at the event, and the university met with Greenville-based Papa John’s franchisee Perfect Delivery, Inc. to handle the pizza part.

“We actually had a phone call with Clemson the next morning, and we've been kind of going back forth with them and working with their operations and logistics and athletic department in discussing what it would actually take to pull this off if the story continued to gain traction,” John Knapp of Perfect Delivery told TigerNet. “We have had weekly meetings or phone calls with Clemson since the first college football playoff poll.”

Papa John’s employees from the 10 stores that are participating in the event will begin preparation early Sunday morning.

“Our numbers are a little closer to 3,000 pizzas. There are eight slices per pizza,” Knapp said. “Each one is handmade so you can imagine the amount of labor that goes into pulling this off. We will have 25 ovens going full-time and it will take several hours to cook all of the pizzas. The actual time in the oven time is about six minutes. About 75 employees will have to come in early.

“We will have to have employees coming in starting at six a.m. to start doing the prep work. They have to get the sauce and cheese ready, and the boxes and all of the other stuff. We just found out ourselves that Clemson was looking at two different times depending on a win or a loss in the ACC Championship Game, so starting the baking will be determined by that. That obviously changes when the cooking time starts.”

Papa John’s is also providing an 18-wheeler with ovens that will at Memorial Stadium to help with the cooking.

“We think we will have a crew of five in the trailer producing pizza on site,” he said, “There are two ovens in there so there will be several hundred pizzas produced at that location.”

Knapp said that he thinks the supplies would fill an entire truck, and he doesn’t know what will happen if the crowd exceeds the numbers Clemson has provided.

“We haven't gotten that back from Clemson yet. The challenge is that this has never been done before, so predicting the number of people that are going to come out and be a part of the whole event isn't easy,” he said. “Clemson is providing us with a best-guess number. All of the food has already been ordered.”

All of the pizzas will be kept warm with the usual pizza delivery bags, and food and drink will be provided through stadium concessions. Knapp said no one is making money off of the event but the publicity is worth the extra work.

“We will be doing this at best as a break-even proposition,” Knapp said. “We are super-excited to continue our partnership with Clemson. They have been our partner for a long time and we are looking forward to the opportunity this provides.”

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