Andrew Carrabba has been making pizzas since he was a kid. By now, he figured he had a knack for it, to say the least. After all, he runs a successful restaurant -- Paulie's Coal Fired Pizza in greater Bluffton.
Turns out, others who know pizza think he's got a knack for it, too.
Paulie's came in fourth overall at the International Pizza Expo's best pie competition in Las Vegas earlier this month.
"I was expecting to do OK," he said. "But I didn't think I'd do that well."
The expo is a trade show for pizza makers worldwide, bringing thousands for the three-day event. Part of that is a competition with hundreds of entrants in the categories of traditional pie and non-traditional pie.
Carrabba made Paulie's Signature Pizza, a layering of san marzano tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and pecorino cheese, and a special blend of seasonings.
The competition was broken down into eight regions. Paulie's won its open division region in the traditional pie category against 65 others in a blind taste test. The next day in the finals, in front of a panel of judges, Andrew had to present the pizza. At age 23, he was the youngest competitor he saw there. But, despite the seeming lack of experience, he impressed the judges enough to finish less than a point behind the third-place winner.
For a little shop in South Carolina, he took pride in the accomplishment, especially in the fact that what won was something he and his late brother, Matthew, created.
The restaurant has been in the works since the Carrabba brothers' childhood. They come from an Italian family of five brothers and one sister. Their parents, Angelo and Carolyn, moved down South in 1998. Matthew and Andrew used to make small pies on the grill for family and friends. Guests used to say that they were so good they should open their own restaurant. The compliments stuck. Andrew even talked about opening a restaurant in a speech he gave when he graduated Hilton Head Christian Academy in 2006.
The Carrabbas opened their own place, picking out the right spot in the up-and-coming Berkeley Place development near Sea Turtle Cinemas. They decided to bake the flat bread pizzas over coals because it was unique to the area. They named it Paulie's after their younger brother who was always looking to help out around the kitchen. Matthew and Andrew worked to fine-tune each of their recipes.
After getting a handle on the business, Andrew and Matthew had thought about going to the expo to compete last year. However, life took an unexpected turn. In September 2010, Matthew -- a former high school football standout who was attending the University of South Carolina Beaufort -- died when the car he was driving veered off the road and struck a tree. He was 21.
Andrew continued on with the business, enlisting his two older brothers to help him at the expo. Paulie's signature pie came from Andrew's ideas for the dough and Matthew's ideas for the toppings. Andrew entered it as a tribute to Matthew.
"Winning this helped a lot," he said. "It really felt good. It was something we worked on together."