Chefs, restaurateurs and culinary instructors may know more about pizza. But nobody knows more about eating pizza than a middle-schooler.
Which is part of the reason Toppers Pizza held a contest to see who among them in Fort Mill could come up with the best new flavor. Turns out it was Cody Merrigan with Nacho Ordinary Pizza.
“It’s all my favorite food,” said Merrigan, 12, a rising seventh-grader moving from Fort Mill Middle School to Banks Trail Middle School this fall. “Pizza and nachos. So I just combined them.”
But the idea didn’t start with his taste buds.
“I guess I was just trying to think of nacho jokes,” he said.
However it arrived, the name itself stood out among about 120 submissions.
“I just looked at it and I said, that dude’s going to be a finalist,” said Khalil Clark, vice president of operations with Toppers.
By the time six potential pizzas remained, it was taste that won the day. Other local businesses taste tested. Three finalists made it to an in-store vote. The pizza with nacho cheese sauce, cheddar and pepper jack, taco meat, tomatoes and fire-roasted jalapenos proved a favorite.
“His crust type made a huge difference,” Clark said. “Some crusts go well with certain ingredients.”
For his trouble, Merrigan earned free pizza all summer. Customers can order the pie throughout July. Other entrants earned coupons, too.
Clark said other pies, he recalls a Forest Fire recipe, were good. None were too far off the wall.
“Everything was off the wall,” he said. “I was kind of used to it because when you start working with pizza, what do you do? You start throwing things together.”
Having learned plenty about pizzas since, Clark’s earliest attempts wouldn’t have won him any competitions. Making what Merrigan did all the more impressive.
“My first pizzas were just horrible,” Clark said. “All flavors don’t blend well together.”
Toppers staff didn’t get any entries they couldn’t make. Whether they decided to was another question, but the Fort Mill restaurant prides itself on unique options.
“You can’t get too crazy with the toppings,” Clark said. “We have tater tots, spinach, like four types of chicken. We have like 40 toppings.”
Merrigan doesn’t cook or bake. Like most budding teens, he likes to eat. He plays in the school band. He enjoys his summers. And he’ll do it this year with loads of free pizza. Nacho ordinary summer, indeed.
“I eat a lot of pizza,” Merrigan said.