AUBURN, Ala. -- If you order pizza from the Domino's on West Magnolia Avenue, you could eat a world-class pie.
Whether the taste deserves such a rating is subjective, but the speed is inarguable. And the store's operating partner, Chris Daugherty, is certifiably among the elite.
Last month, he finished 10th out of 18 competitors at the Domino's 2014 World's Fastest Pizza Maker Competition in Las Vegas.
He is the first employee in the 24-year history of the region's franchisee, Alpharetta, Ga.-based Cowabunga Inc., to reach the world finals.
"The whole experience was phenomenal," said Daugherty, 23, a rising senior chemical engineering major at Auburn University.
"It was a chance to be really engulfed in the Domino's culture. It's not about being the world's fastest pizza maker; it's really about providing a great service for our customers and inspiring every team member to be the best they can for our customers.
"The miracle of the team is being part of something bigger than yourself."
The competition is held every two years. To enter, employees submit videos of themselves making three large pizzas (one pepperoni, one mushroom and one cheese), plus a spiel about why they should be chosen.
Qualifiers must make those three pizzas in at least 1 minute and 30 seconds. That's how long it took Daugherty to make just one pizza when he first was timed as a 16-year-old.
"I remember when I started making pizzas, I thought it was the most fun thing in the world," he said. "I wanted to make the prettiest pizza in the whole world. I wasn't too much about the speed."
Seven years later, Daugherty's qualifying time was 45 seconds for the three pizzas, so he was confident going into the finals.
"The key is just to do all the small things," Daugherty said. "Don't think too much. I do this every day. Just let my body take control."
Except for the week before the finals, Daugherty didn't need to take time away from work because he could train while he was doing his regular job.
"We have orders all the time, so you can use that to practice for the competition," he said. "It benefits everybody."
Baking the pizzas isn't part of the competition. The race ends when they are prepared -- before they would be placed in the oven.
To be considered a "made" pizza, the dough must be correctly pressed and stretched (14 inches in diameter), properly placed on the discs and appropriately covered in sauce (one even scoop). The cheese (7 ounces) and toppings (40 pepperonis or 5 ounces of mushrooms) also must be added according to the Domino's standard. Three judges scrutinize the competitors.
"You want to make every movement count," Daugherty said. "You don't want to have any wasted movement."
Domino's pizza makers work the dough in cornmeal to keep it from sticking.
Daugherty doesn't take time to measure or count. For example, he knows 7 ounces of shredded cheese equates to two handfuls for him.
"I've been doing this a long time," he said.
When it comes to toppings, correct coverage means not too many overlapping and no empty spaces larger than a quarter.
"It's really by sight," he said. "When you practice, you can get pretty close."
During the finals in June, Daugherty delivered a time of 1 minute and 1 second in the first and second rounds -- 16 seconds slower than his qualifying time.
"I did not do as well as I should have," he said. "It's really intense. They're standing right over you."
The winner, Pali Grewal of Britain, made it through four rounds with a championship time of 39.17 seconds.
More than 5,000 folks attended the competition. About 40 of them were from Cowabunga, which owns 93 Domino's stores in the region, Daugherty said. He thanked Cowabunga owner Michael Orcutt, vice president Alex Melson and regional director Allen Jones for their support.
"They gave me all the time in the world to train," Daugherty said.
Jones supervises Daugherty and coached him for the competition.
"Chris is probably one of the most passionate people I've ever met," Jones said. "He truly, genuinely loves what he does. He's a big-time motivator. He likes to think people can take over the world. He always seems to have something to prove. Now, over the years, it's about helping other people accomplish things. Now, he's becoming a leader."
Daugherty noted assistant store manager Brandon Payne "took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I wouldn't have been able to make it if it wasn't for him."
Payne praised Daugherty for being "consistent and always working. He's trying to give the customers the best experience they can and getting the pizzas out as quick as they can."
Daugherty emphasizes that message of speed and quality to his staff.
"It's a lot of pressure, but whenever you can make it come together and really come through for the customer, if you can deliver a pizza to somebody 11 minutes after they ordered it, they're not going to order anywhere else," he said. "Seeing that 'wow' on their face, I like to make my customers cuss -- but in a good way: "Damn! That was fast!"
Daugherty started with Domino's as a 15-year-old customer service rep back home in Sylacauga. He has been working at the Auburn store for five years and managing it for three years.
"It's high energy and to know that you're doing it for someone else, you're giving it to someone else, you have no idea what kind of game-changer food is for people," he said. "It can make somebody's day really, really great. With the customer interaction, the pizza being fantastic, you get a chance to really connect with people."
Daugherty is grateful to Domino's for believing in him.
"You get out what you put into Domino's and this competition," he said. "Something like 90 percent of our franchisees started as drivers or insiders, at the very bottom of our system, and I just feel like Domino's embodies the American dream. If you come in and work hard and do what you're supposed to do and really give it your all, they'll give you a shot."
Daugherty also credits his mother, April Wright, for raising him right.
"She just really pushed me, encouraged me," he said.
His 21-year-old brother, Joseph, works with him at the store.
"Hopefully, he'll be the next one up and coming," Daugherty said. "He's my protégé now. He is actually -- I don't want him to get too big-headed -- but he's had some of the best progress I've ever seen as a new hire. As long as he keeps accelerating, I think he'll be really good."
As the first member of his family to attend college, Daugherty is funding his education with his Domino's salary.
"Domino's has been my rock my whole time through college," he said. "I'm going to graduate with no debt. They pay me well enough so I can pay for college. It's been fantastic."
Daugherty wants to become a franchise owner or corporate training director.
"I would really love to have a career with Domino's," he said. "I really want to get my degree. It's something I've worked toward. I've put in the time. Maybe I'll do something with my degree later on, but right now I love Domino's."
Jones predicted Daugherty will "go as far as he wants to go in Domino's. At such a young age, he's got a good head on his shoulders."
And a fast pizza in his hands.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter ONLINE ONLY
Click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com to watch a video of Chris Daugherty showing his world-class pizza-making speed.