MILWAUKEE – Stranger Things fans, Palermo’s Pizza is counting on you to help Surfer Boy Pizza in this year’s Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest.
Surfer Boy Pizza and his delivery driver Argyle, played by Eduardo Franco, may be based in Lenora Hills, California in Season 4 of the hugely popular Netflix show. But the real, frozen Surfer Boy Pizza available in Walmart stores nationwide is made right here in Wisconsin.
“It’s always surprising when you tell people who you work for and that we make Surfer Boy Pizza,” said John Leonardo, Palermo’s senior director of marketing. “It’s a ‘No way!’ (Reaction). They think it’s so cool, but of course it suits us. We’re really excited.”
Entering the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin competition should help Milwaukee-based Palermo to publicize his connection to the show a little further. The first round of online voting, which opened Monday and closes at 5pm on September 27, will narrow down the more than 120 entries to 16.
The event may be titled “Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin,” but Leonardo is hoping the avid Stranger Things fan base will vote Surfer Boy Pizza to win the bracket-style elimination rounds.
“Stranger Things fans are very vocal,” Leonardo said, noting that the pizzas have been appearing on Tik Tok and other social media channels this summer. “I think we’re going to get a lot of support from these people and other people who are familiar with Palermo as a Milwaukee company that’s been around for almost 60 years.”
Since 2016, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has hosted the annual Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin competition to showcase the innovation and breadth of products from Wisconsin-based manufacturers. Manufacturing generates $60 billion in direct economic impact in the state each year and employs one in every six workers in the state, according to the WMC.
This year’s entries include many products that we traditionally associate with manufacturing. There’s the Mammoth 850 snowplow from Ariens Co., which the Brillion-based company describes as “a go-anywhere, clearing-all behemoth designed and built to mock Wisconsin (and all) winters”; Appleton-based Pierce Manufacturing’s Volterra EV fire engine, first deployed in Madison in the summer of 2021; and M/V Mark W. Barker of Sturgeon Bay’s Bay Shipbuilding, the first US-flagged Great Lakes freighter to be built on the lakes in nearly 40 years
TIED TOGETHER: Is a Freighter Built in Door County the “Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin”? Voting is now open
Wisconsin is more than just cheese, trees and kringle
Many entries highlight the state’s other key industries, such as agriculture, food and healthcare, as well as the ingenuity and innovation of Wisconsinians.
For GreatPlate creators Rick Kellow and Beth Kuehl, the decision to submit their patented, reusable plates and cups made from eco-friendly plastic was a no-brainer because nearly every element of the GreatPlate was engineered or sourced in Wisconsin, Kellow said.
“It’s 100% Wisconsin. It was patented by Foley & Lardner, the design work was done at Creative Design in West Bend, Mantz Automation in Harford made our molds and it’s made in Oshkosh,” said Kellow. “Even the labels are printed in Wisconsin. It really is a Wisconsin product.”
Kellow and Kuehl have now sold more than 7 million GreatPlates and have also introduced a square plate with room for a wine glass. Kellow said the company is in talks to license the product to other companies as well.
Healthcare products and innovations include a radiation therapy machine for cancer patients, Oculogica’s EyeBOX device, which can diagnose a concussion in less than four minutes, cranberry seed CBD oil, body lotions, an MRI disinfection system and the designed 30,000 – Gallon solvent storage tank to support the production of COVID-19 vaccines designed, manufactured and built by Fourinox Inc. based in Ashwabuenon.
Every storage tank and container that Fourinox designs, manufactures and builds is special. Its customers operate in industries such as oil and gas, pharmaceutical, water, chemical and food production where the margin for error is often non-existent. But Quinn Meeuwsen, Fourinox’s business development manager, said the 33,000-pound vaccine storage tank ordered by a Michigan pharmaceutical company took on added significance.
“We are a ship shop. You can’t always see where your tanks are going and what they’re doing,” Meeuwsen said. “But something like that is just cool, it’s something meaningful. Our boys know what it is for and what it does.”
But Meeuwsen said he hopes the competition will also draw attention to Fourinox as a place to work, as the company must continue to hire welders with knowledge of TIG, MIG and cored wire welding.
Lots of curds, root beer, bitters and, of course, frozen pizza
Food and farming competitions include multiple cheese curds, multiple popcorns, multiple beef sticks, vegan ice cream, Jolly Good sodas, Sprecher Root Beer, Sunset Point Winery’s Wine Bag, Bittercube Cocktail Bitters, and of course, Surfer Boy Pizza.
Leonardo said the ingredients for Surfer Boy Pizza are coming together earlier this year ahead of the Stranger Things season 4 premiere in May. Netflix and Walmart wanted to capitalize on Surfer Boy Pizza and create a quality cake that also captured the pizza vibe of the mid-1980s. The pizza has a crust that’s crispy on the outside and airier on the inside, a slightly sweeter tomato sauce, and quality meats and cheeses.
Walmart, familiar with Palermo’s other brands like Screamin’ Sicilian Pizzas, approached the company with the idea. Palermo’s agreed to license and produce the pizzas, designing the 1980s-style pizza delivery box with a Surfer Boy Pizza logo. Palermo’s produces four styles of Surfer Boy Pizza: pepperoni, multi-meat, supreme, and a pineapple and jalapeno pie, which Argyle, a proponent of fruit on pizzas on the show, would approve of.
Amid the quick turnaround, Leonardo said the company was focused on quality ingredients and a pizza style that would outlast this season’s initial wave of popularity. He said feedback has been positive so far, and people on social media said they hope the pizza lasts the show.
“We knew we were going to get a lot of lawsuits because of the show, but we didn’t want it to be a one-and-done product,” Leonard said. “We want it to be a product that people will enjoy for a long, long time, over and over again. The feedback that people wanted it reflects the good experience they’ve had with the brand.”
How and when to vote for Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin
People will have multiple opportunities to vote for their favorite posts this year. The 16 selected in the first ballot will compete in a series of bracket-style ballots ending October 19 when WMC announces this year’s winner at its Business Day event in Madison.
Here’s a look at the upcoming key dates in the Coolest Thing competition:
- September 27: Referendum ends
- 28 September: Top 16 announced
- Sept. 29-Oct. 4: Top 16 bracket voting
- 5 Oct: Top 8 announced
- October 6-11: Bracket voting among the top 8
- 12 Oct: Top 4 announcement
- 13-19 Oct: Final Voting Round
- Oct. 19: WMC announces winners at event in Madison.
Visit madeinwis.com for more information on entries, the contest and voting.
Meeuwsen said he likes the idea of the annual competition for the exposure it brings to so many companies like Fourinox.
“There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get recognized as being made in Wisconsin,” he said. “This is a great way to show the work ethic and what we’re all about here.”
Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JeffBollier.