MEDIA CONTACT: Amy E. S. Maier, The Warren Group,, 702-904-0296

Winning pizza available for purchase one-day only on May 5

 LAS VEGAS – Michael Vakneen, chef and pizzaiolo of Pop Up Pizza at the Plaza Hotel & Casino won first place in the southwest region of the U.S. and second in the world in the non-traditional professional division at the International Pizza Challenge during Pizza Expo 2023 for his “Pork Belly and Date Jam” pizza on a 72 hour fermented sourdough crust that is mixed and finished by hand. 

Vakneen’s winning pizza is topped with onion and date jam, maple glazed lardons and duck prosciutto from Tempesta Chicago, Grand Cheese Co. smoked mozzarella, Coachella valley dates, Point Reyes blue cheese, Stracciatella, fried and caramelized pecans, orange zest, microgreens, and edible flowers. 

Dubbed the “Champ’s Pie,” Vakneen’s winning pizza will be available for the public to buy at Pop Up Pizza during a special, one-day-only tasting on Friday, May 5, 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. or while supplies last. 

Vakneen also won the title of World Sandwich Champion at the International Italian Sandwich Championship. Now in its third year, the competition evaluates competitors’ entries that can be a hot or cold Italian-inspired sandwich consisting of any combination of Italian ingredients, sauces, toppings, and/or garnishes on any type of bread, roll, or bun. 

Vakneen was also inducted into the World Pizza Champions team. The nonprofit, multinational group is made up of elite pizza professionals who are dedicated to promoting pizza making as a respected craft and viable career choice. Team members are selected from world champion competitors and acclaimed industry leaders. Inclusion on the team is by invitation only and based on skill, character, compatibility, and selfless effort on behalf of the industry with the shared goal of setting the industry-wide standard of excellence in all aspects of the pizza maker’s art. 

About the Plaza Hotel & Casino
 Located in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, the Plaza Hotel & Casino combines a vintage Rat Pack attitude with modern styling and personal customer service for the ultimate Vegas experience. First opened in 1971 and built on the site of the original Las Vegas railroad depot, the Plaza has nearly 1,000 modern rooms and suites, a classic Vegas showroom, downtown’s only bingo hall, and 30,000 sq. ft. of refurbished ballroom and meeting space. Larger outdoor events are hosted at the Plaza’s Core Arena, downtown’s only equestrian and multipurpose facility. Guests enjoy a variety of dining options led by the renowned Oscar’s Steakhouse in the hotel’s iconic glass dome overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. A new race & sports book along with hundreds of slot machines and nearly two dozen table games comprise an 80,000-square-foot casino floor. A fully renovated rooftop pool and recreation deck, complete with private cabanas, hot tub, food truck, and dedicated pickleball courts, provide a variety of outdoor amenities. For more information on the multiple award-winning Plaza Hotel & Casino, visit Get updates via FacebookInstagram and Twitter.