Papa John’s Narrows Down Specialty Pizza Challenge Finalists

Food Network star Ted Allen and Rich Eisen of the NFL Network participated in the ultimate taste test earlier today, helping narrow down a field of more than 12,000 Facebook entries in the Papa John’s Specialty Pizza Challenge to just three lucky finalists. The announcement was broadcast live on Papa John’s Facebook page.

The result? Two spicy recipes featuring jalapeno peppers and one with a new take on a traditional dish. “The Big Bonanza” by Blair Dial of Springfield, Ill., “The Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu” from Barbara Hyman of Los Angeles, Calif,” and “The Workin’ Fire” from Kendra Chapman of Ball Ground, Ga., received the highest marks based on appearance, aroma, taste and overall appeal, as chosen by Papa John’s celebrity judging panel.

The three pizzas will be featured on the Papa John’s menu August 2 – 29 and their creators will each receive a $1,000 marketing budget to help promote their pizza. The highest-selling pizza will be declared the winner – and its creator will receive a “slice” of the sales (up to $10,000), free Papa John’s pizza for life, and the opportunity to appear in a “Papa’s In The House” TV commercial.

“Customers responded to this challenge by combining ingredients that normally have a very niche audience and making a case for them in the mainstream,” said Allen, host of Chopped on the Food Network. “Finding a balance in the ingredients was key to creating a winning recipe, as well as not overloading the pizza with too many toppings.”

“I was put on this Earth to eat pizza,” said Eisen, host of “NFL Total Access” on NFL Network, “I took my role as the representative of football fans everywhere seriously when assessing each slice, and I think ‘The Big Bonanza’ about sums up the whole experience. The pizzas are terrific.”

Though each variety of Papa John’s sauce (Original, Spinach Alfredo, and Barbeque) is represented in the finalists’ recipes, only 19 percent of the entries used Spinach Alfredo sauce while 14 percent used Barbeque. Of the more than 12,000 entries received, jalapenos and pineapple were two of the most popular toppings, featured on 20 percent and 18 percent of the submissions, respectively. All of the finalists feature Papa John’s original hand-tossed fresh dough crust, though 27 percent of the overall submissions were built on thin crust.

“Papa’s Specialty Challenge was the Facebook equivalent of a 12,000-person focus group, giving our team a direct pipeline to our customers’ preferences,” said Andrew Varga, Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We have just begun digging through the data to determine trends that may impact our menu offerings in the future, perhaps even inspiring us to add new toppings to the mix.”

More about the three finalists:

  • The Big Bonanza

Created by: Blair Dial of Springfield, Ill.

Crust/Sauce: Original Crust with Barbeque Sauce

Ingredients: Bacon, Beef, Ham, Jalapeno Peppers, Onions, Roma Tomatoes

Inspiration: A pizza that can tackle the Wild West and make you “howl at the moon”

  • Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu

Created by: Barbara Hyman of Los Angeles, Calif.

Crust/Sauce: Original Crust with Spinach Alfredo Sauce

Ingredients: Extra Cheese, Three Cheese Blend, Grilled Chicken, Ham, Onions

Inspiration: A Papa John’s pizza twist on a mother and daughter’s cherished chicken cordon bleu recipe

  • The Workin’ Fire

Created by: Kendra Chapman of Ball Ground, Ga.

Crust/Sauce: Original Crust with Traditional Sauce

Ingredients: Parmesan/Romano Cheese, Jalapeno Peppers, Pepperoni, Spicy Italian Sausage

Inspiration: Created by a firefighter to be the “fire tetrahedron” of pizzas

For more information about the challenge, visit and watch live footage from the event. Also, additional descriptions about each entry can be found on the company’s Facebook discussion board.

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