WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- With pizza-industry alumni using their dining and delivery experience to think outside the box, pizza has a rising political profile.
Two candidates in the field pursuing the Republican party's 2012 presidential nomination have long, stringy ties to the pizza industry and are just the latest pizza alumni to make their presence felt in American politics. The pizza industry brought in $36 billion in 2009, the last complete year for which complete statistics were available, and provides a nice resume item for candidates pushing for economic growth. But don't take the link too far. The industry declined 1% from 2008 to 2009 and has seen its share of struggles in the year and a half since, making relying on pizza for popularity at the polls look as dumb as calling it "'za."
"Politicians are not attracted to pizza anymore than 93% of all Americans who have fallen in love with the world's most perfect food," says Steve Green, publisher of pizza industry magazine
. "However, there are at this time a good number of pizza alumni who have become politically active because the pizza industry is a fabulous incubator of talent."
Republican hopeful Herman Cain's entire campaign is held together by dough, mozzarella and tomato sauce. While serving as an executive with Pillsbury in the early '80s, Cain caught the company's attention by taking over 400 Philadelphia-area outlets of Pillsbury's then-subsidiary
and transforming them from the chain's least profitable to its most profitable. Pillsbury asked him to do the same with Godfather's Pizza in 1986 and named him chief executive of the foundering chain.
That success and Cain's moonlighting gig as chief executive of the National Restaurant Association earned him a spot on Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign as an economic adviser and funded his own campaigns for a Georgia Senate seat in 2004 and for the presidential nomination in 2000 and this year. To this day, however, it still hasn't earned him public office.
That's the key difference between Cain and his pizza-primed GOP rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The latter was still with Bain Capital when it bought a 93% stake in
for $1 billion in 1998. He's used the profits from that and other Bain deals to back both of his presidential campaigns.
"The pizza industry is a microcosm of business. All of the business principles can be learned and mastered in the process of providing customers what they want for a fair and sustainable price," Green says. "Our industry is very competitive because it has such low barriers of entry and, like their political views, every good pizza operator believes their pizza is the best."