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Meet Great Pizza Box Fold-Off champ Virgil Risi


Great Pizza Box Fold-Off champion Virgil Risi.

Virgil Risi folds pizza boxes like he means business. Last October, Risi, then 19, put together 10 large boxes in an impressive 36.33 seconds. A time good enough to topple the previous record of 42.55 seconds, held by James Timothy of Zen’Za Pizzeria in London, Ont.

Risi has worked in his family’s business, Maria’s Original Pizza in Brantford, Ont., for the last six years, coming on board when he started high school. His grandparents, Maria and Virgilio, his namesake, started the business in 1968. 

Like his grandparents, Virgil Risi is a hard worker. While busy with university studies – he’s in his second year of a four-year degree in nuclear engineering at the Ontario Tech University – he currently works at the pizzeria about 12 hours a week. In the summertime, he expects to take on a full-time shift.

His role has changed over the years. When he started he was mostly stocking ingredients and supplies such as, well, pizza boxes. When he got older, he learned to stretch and bake the pizzas – “pretty much everything my dad does,” he says, referring to Gino Risi, who with wife Bobbie-Sue owns and operates the business.

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“I was a little nervous switching to the ovens,” Virgil Risi admits. “It really puts your skills put to the test.”

We asked him what part of his job he enjoys the most. “The boxes, of course!” he says with a laugh. “You can just listen to music and get in the groove.” 

He got fast at folding through good old-fashioned practice. “Practice makes perfect,” says Risi, who estimates he’s folded 400,000 boxes in his lifetime. He does offer one clue behind his success: “Use as few arm movements as possible.”

The friendly competition at Maria’s no doubt motivated him hone those skills. His chief competition is his father. “He’s slowly been phased out as champ,” the younger Risi says cheekily. 

He enjoys his work and recognizes the skills it develops. “Communication is a big one, especially with customers. I’m usually a shy person. Having to deal with people has helped me open up. Also teamwork. There’s no one person – you have to work as a team.”

Young people are looking to develop their skills in the jobs they choose, he says, but the majority are looking for money and independence: “Most Grade 9-12’s want experience and spending cash and to become self-sufficient.”

As for the future, a career goal is to work for Ontario Power Generation. At the moment, Risi is looking forward to a summer of working full time at Maria’s.

“We’re a family at the shop, so you’ve got that close camaraderie.”   

Watch Risi’s winning fold at the Canadian Pizza Virtual Summit.