Growing up in the industrial city of Gujrat in Pakistan, Khawar Ghafoor played cricket but knew little about American football.
But in recent weeks Ghafoor, the owner of a Towson pizzeria, has been captivated by the Baltimore Ravens' run to the Super Bowl. He was yelling along with many of his 18 employees as they prepared delivery orders and watched Baltimore beat the New England Patriots two weeks ago. He knows the Super Bowl means booming business in pizza and wings at Michaelangelo's, and he has become a fan.
"I lost my voice," he said. "We were all screaming here, it was an exciting game. Business was one thing, but we were excited to have the Ravens."
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714 York Road, Towson, MD 21204, USA
The next day, his voice mostly returned, Ghafoor began preparing for Super Bowl Sunday. He ordered extras of everything, loading up on wings, mozzarella cheese and pizza dough.
For the Super Bowl, "people go with pizza and wings, and they go nuts with it," said Ghafoor. Pizza is something "everyone can share and everyone can agree on. We are expecting to be very busy and getting ready whatever we can."
Super Bowl Sunday is already the second-biggest sales day of the year for the pizza industry — New Year's Day is slightly bigger — according to Pizza Today magazine. With the hometown Ravens taking on the San Francisco 49ers this year, Sunday promises to be huge for eateries such as Ghafoor's 2-year-old restaurant on York Road.
Hordes of hungry football fans and even casual sports fans will clamor for deliveries of spicy wings and pepperoni pizza from Michaelangelo's, Ghafoor said. And should the Ravens win, the parties — and his business — will stretch well past midnight, the usual closing time.
Ghafoor expects to sell about 200 pizzas Sunday, more than twice as many as usual, and up to 800 pounds of chicken wings. He is looking for sales to double to about $8,000. And most orders won't even come in until about an hour before the game starts.
National chains that rely on carryout and delivery sales of pizza and chicken wings will get a huge boost in sales as well. Domino's expects to sell more than 11 million pizza slices Sunday, 80 percent more than a typical Sunday, while Wingstop says more than 6 million wings will fly out its doors.
This year, the big pizza chains are competing heavily with digital marketing and online ordering, said Mark Brandau, an associate editor at Nation's Restaurant News. Papa John's, in a website promotion with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, is allowing customers to go online through Saturday and vote heads or tails on the game-opening coin toss to win a large pizza.
The average pizzeria can expect a 35 percent to 45 percent bump in sales on Super Bowl Sunday, compared with a typical Sunday, said Jeremy White, Pizza Today's editor in chief. Other big pizza days are Halloween, Thanksgiving eve and New Year's Eve, the trade magazine reported.
"If you're in and around the Baltimore area and can make a good showing of support for the Ravens, you can get a lot of business on Sunday," Bandau said. "You just can't get together for [the] Super Bowl without food."
Matthew's Pizza in Highlandtown is preparing for extra business in the hours leading up to the game. The restaurant, which does not deliver, shuts down early every Super Bowl Sunday because eat-in business all but evaporates at game time. Still, pre-game business is brisk in "half-baked" pizzas that customers pick up and finish off in their own ovens, said co-owner Chris Maler.
"It's a good day for us," Maler said. "And with the Ravens being in the Super Bowl, more Baltimore people will be watching than not care. It has an impact."
All the excitement has nearly transformed Ghafoor into a full-fledged fan of American football.
As a college student in Pakistan studying economics, Ghafoor played cricket for one season. Occasionally, he saw TV highlights of football in the U.S.
"It was exciting for us, but we never knew what was going on," he said. The game seemed to pause unexpectedly, and "there was no explanation."
Last year, Ghafoor's teenage son, now a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, tried to explain the game to him. "My [9-year-old] daughter knows more than me," he said.
That began to change this season as the Ravens kept winning. Two of his employees, a cook and a driver, are die-hard fans. With a crew watching from the shop as the Ravens' playoff game against the Denver Broncos went into double overtime, Ghafoor found that his driver "knows every single rule of football. I was amazed. I've learned from him."
Ghafoor, who came to the U.S. in 1999 at age 24, has taken a circuitous path to owning a business. Seeing little opportunity in his hometown, he first went to Bahrain, where he worked for a document management company and met his wife, Josephine, a native of the Philippines working as a nurse. When his uncle helped land him a job on a construction site in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ghafoor immigrated on his own, planning to save enough money to bring his family to America.