Youth spins way to title
'Shakerboard' skills earn Barlow senior a nifty cash prize
Winning a national competition among pizza restaurant employees isn't always about the product.
For Barlow senior Michael Perez, it's all about the sign.
'I'm not afraid of being ridiculous on the street,' said Perez, a 'shakerboarder' at the Gresham Little Caesar's Pizza. 'I like inventing new ways to flip the sign, and I enjoy being outside and getting people's attention.'
Perez, 17, beat out more than 500 applicants in May to compete in Little Caesar's Shakerboard competition held in Las Vegas. He was one of four finalists to square off before a group of corporate judges, walking away with the top prize of $2,500 cash and 'bragging rights.'
Standing on the street waving a sign for his employer is nothing new to Perez. He's been perfecting his act for nearly two years.
'I needed a job my junior year to pay for prom,' he said. 'The only place hiring was Liberty Tax. It was seasonal, so when tax season was over, Little Caesar's saw what I was doing and offered me a job as a shakerboarder.'
In a blur of precise movements, Perez tosses, spins and flips a heavy cardboard sign advertising Little Caesar's specials. He is one of three shakerboarders employed by the restaurant, but the first to bring a high-energy act and fancy footwork to the job. Listening to his own blend of 'techno' music for inspiration, Perez is a continual burst of movement and quick with a smile and wave to passers-by.
But working outside in the elements was an adjustment, Perez admitted. He had to adapt his routine to compensate for East County's infamous wind, learning quickly that an unexpected gust could blow his sign into the street. Initially, when he took his act outside, Perez encountered drivers who would jeer or laugh at his routine. Now, however, he's a fixture on Northeast Division Street and Hogan Drive, one motorists recognize and appreciate.
'They honk, wave, bring me a drink,' Perez said. 'I've even gotten a couple of girls' phone numbers! But people don't really make fun of us anymore because we're part of Gresham's culture now. I'm proud of what I do. Who else can say they've been to a national competition and won?'
Each Little Caesar's store is allowed to submit one entry for the contest, which is held annually at the corporation's convention. Perez and a friend, also a shakerboarder for the restaurant, filmed a short video, which was submitted by the store's manager. Corporate executives whittled the number of entries down before arriving at the final four, which included two shakerboarders from California and the competition's first female contestant from Georgia.
Perez confessed to being nervous once his submission was made.
'I didn't know if anybody flipped their sign like I do,' he said. 'I taught myself, so I didn't know if I was as good as everybody said I was. But I was really excited when I found out I'd made it.'
Accompanied by his father, Rudy, Perez was invited to the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for three days, all expenses paid. He was also presented with $450 spending money from Little Caesar's and carried the honor as the youngest shakerboarder to ever compete.
Perez had also done his homework, checking out his rivals and their moves on YouTube. Little Caesar's provided a shirt and hat to wear during competition, as well as a new sign to twirl, but Perez wore clothing to set himself apart and worked with his sign before heading to Las Vegas.
'I watched the other kids' videos and analyzed their moves,' he said. 'At first, I was wondering, 'how am I going to compete against them.' But then I realized they used the same moves I did, so I added some different moves and changed my routine a little. This was the best year to watch the competition because we all had different skills.'
Perez has put the Gresham Little Caesar's on the map, according to Troy Smith, the store's assistant manager. Since handing Perez a shakerboard a year ago, business has been booming.
'Mike's made a big impact here,' Smith said. 'We try to keep him outside because he brings a lot of business into the store. He likes to shakerboard and nobody else ever wanted to do it. They would just stand around or walk up and down the sidewalk. Mike's crazy. He loves it.'
In addition to top honors for his skills, Perez was also given an automatic entry into next year's shakerboarding competition. He's not worried, however, since he's already planning for a repeat performance.
'I still have a lot of moves nobody has seen yet,' he said. 'I'll whip those out next year.'