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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pizza Juggler Hopes To Take Slice Out Of Opponent

It’s an old cliche, but I can’t stop myself:

There’s just no business like dough business.

Not when Ken Bryant tosses the stuff every which way to the rockin’ beat of an Elvis tune.

Bryant is just 21, but already a master of the age-old and nearly lost art of pizza juggling.

The star attraction at Deer Park’s Pizza Factory, Bryant launches dough into orbit in endless variations.

Two pies at a time. Hand-to-hand crossovers. Round the back. Under the leg. Off the shoe….

I caught Bryant’s act the other day and this kid has some crust.

With the dedication of an Olympic figure skater, the Spokane resident lately has been spending a lot of extra hours with his hands in his work.

Next month, Bryant takes his Elvis routine to Viva Las Vegas, where he will challenge his mentor and the rest of the big cheeses at the World Pizza Games. The winner gets $300, a medal and a lot of TV exposure.

It’s all part of the 13th annual Pizza Expo, attended by 6,000 conventioneering pizza vendors who will drool over the very latest in pizza technology.

As I learned from my visit with Bryant, pizza pros don’t practice with real dough. It falls apart too fast. What they use are $10 gum-rubber practice circles called “Throw Dough.”

Unfortunately, careful consumers can’t find simulated pizza dough in the rubber vomit section of the local joke store.

You must send away for it, says Bryant, through ads in the back of “Pizza Today Magazine.”

Slap me silly and call me Alice. Yes, there really is a monthly magazine devoted entirely to pizza.

Bob, a fact-bloated man I reached at “Pizza Today,” told me, among a truckload of other things, that pizza is the food favored by 94 percent of Americans.

We spend $31.5 billion a year scarfing a pizza that would cover 36,500 acres, he said. We eat 12.1 billion pounds of cheese and 3.7 billion pounds of tomatoes and 2.7 billion pounds of flour and…

Shut up, Bob! You’re making me want to hurl.

Getting back to less obnoxious details, Bryant is entered at the expo in the “Innovative Routine” division. He will work his doughy sleight of hand while swiveling his hips to the King’s rendition of “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

It’s only a matter of time before the Fox network adds this to its stable of sporting events:

Terry Bradshaw: “Looks like this young kid Bryant is going to try a pepperoni triple toe loop.”

John Madden: “Ouch! I didn’t know it was legal to do that with an anchovy.”

The competition is plenty fierce.

“It’s gonna be tough,” says Bryant, tossing a wad of dough into the air and spinning it expertly on the palm of his hand. “It’s gotten to the point where all the people you’re up against know how to do all the tricks.”

Tony Gemignani, 24, is the man Bryant most wants to shred like mozzarella.

Gemignani has won the contest the last two years against pizza jugglers from all over the world. He is also the same piazziolo (Italian for “pizza dude”) who taught Bryant how to throw dough.

That was several years ago at Pyzano’s, a pizza joint in Castro Valley, Calif. Bryant, a former star athlete at nearby Hayward High, went to work there when he was 17. He quickly learned every trick in his teacher’s repertoire.

“When I started I threw everything to the right. I’d have to run to catch it,” he says. “I hit some of the girls working there. They didn’t like that.”

A highly competitive lad, Bryant practiced at home so that Gemignani wouldn’t keep upstaging him.

This pizza war is heating up like a deluxe sausage supreme. It sounds a little like a Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker kind of rivalry.

“That’s exactly what it is,” agrees Gemignani. “I’m the bad guy. Ken might be able to beat me. But if he doesn’t, he can always buy my ‘How-to’ video.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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