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Pizza eating contest at Lathrop BBQ Festival
Mike Sayed of Milans Pizza shows one of the massive pies he offers at his Lathrop location. The business will once again sponsor a pizza eating contest at the Lathrop BBQ Festival on Saturday, July 20, at Valverde Park. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

LATHROP – Move over, Joey Chestnut.

You’ve got the likes of Jordan Neely to contend with.

Thousands of people will descend on Valverde Park next weekend to watch the best local grillers showdown over who has the best chicken and the best ribs, but for a small handful of people it’ll be Mike Sayed’s pizza that’ll be the focal point of the massive community gathering.

Sayed, owner of Milan’s Pizza and a supporter of the annual Lathrop BBQ Festival each year since the festival began in 2008, will once again turn over a stack of his pies for an eating competition that serves as a unique draw for those who think that they have what it takes to choke down slice after slice for bragging rights and recognition.

Neely took the top honors in the kids’ division several years ago. Those he dusted got to take what was left of their pizza home with them – toting the box around for the rest of the afternoon like a badge of honor that signified their involvement with one of the fringe events that has helped make the event popular.

And Sayed knows his pizza.

It wasn’t until his mother started to take ill that the Afghani immigrant – who escaped political unrest and the impending Soviet invasion of the mountainous country when he came to America in 1979 – came to California from New York. He owned a pizza restaurant on 19th Street near Times Square. He owned a pizza restaurant in Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue. He owned a pizza restaurant in Jersey City in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

 Throughout his East Coast run, Sayed was always just blocks away from another pizzeria and at times near some of the most highly-regarded and famous pie joints in the world. As a result he mastered the New York thin crust style, and focused extensively on how to provide the best quality to his customers at a low cost – something that he brought with him to California and its much more temperate climate.

The crust, he said, is one of the keys to getting up early in the eating competition.

“If there’s too much crust you can’t eat as much,” he said. “New York pizza is thin, and that’s what I’m used to. That’s what my customers enjoy, and I like providing what my customers want.

“I like getting to see the contest and seeing all of the people in the community come out and come together. It’s a fun time.”

This year the festival will include more than 80 vendors including Sayed, who will be offering up some of his basic wares for those who want to come and sample the same pizza that people will try to scarf down in less than 10 minutes.

But that doesn’t mean his menu is simple.

His Afghani roots come out in some of the kabobs that are offered on the menu, and many of the things that are cooked up are done so in the Halal style – in accordance with Islamic Shariah law. That makes it popular with a wide range of people in the community, and offers something that few restaurants can claim.

Milan’s Pizza is located at 15030 S. Harlan Road, and is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. For additional information, call (209) 858-1111. The store also has a Manteca located at 1150 W. Yosemite Avenue. It can be reached at (209) 239-8500.