As the Fastest Pizzamaker Alive, Waheed Asim Has a Winning Secret: He Kneads the Dough

updated 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Waheed Asim wanted what every young immigrant wants: a slice of the good life. Asim's American dream wasn't just pie in the sky either. Thanks to the Horatio Alger virtues of pluck, hard work and dedication—combined with the superhuman eye-hand coordination of a Michael Jordan—Asim, 19, is rolling in dough. For three years he has been America's champion pizzamaker.

Asim's rise to pizza superstardom began modestly enough in the parking lot of a Domino's Pizza in Alexandria, Va. "He was 14. He just kept hanging around. He didn't speak a word of English," says Frank Meeks, the franchisee and Asim's biggest fan. "He was willing to work hard, so we hired him." For Asim, an Afghan who had been in the U.S. for just one week, it was instant culture shock. "I had never seen a pizza," he says. "I didn't even know what a pizza was. I started out as a garbage man, in charge of the trash."

In six months Waheed worked his way out of garbage and into pizzamaking. The money he made—$3.45 an hour plus bonuses—meant survival for his family, who had left everything when they fled Afghanistan in 1983. His father had died, and his mother got Waheed, his brother and sister out of the country on the pretext that she had to go to India for surgery. "We had houses in Afghanistan," he says, "but we left them so they would think we were coming back."

The family was still struggling when Asim entered the Pizza Olympics in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1986. Just like any Olympic hopeful, he had carefully honed his skills. "For a year and a half I worked real hard," he says. "I picked up techniques—how to use the little seconds that we waste. After work I'd do a little jogging and come back and start practicing. But 75 percent of my practice is at work; I do about 260 pizzas an hour." Asim's dedication paid off. He came in second that year and won $7,500. The next year he won first place and $8,500. Asim retained his title again in 1988 and last year won again, making 16 pizzas in 3 minutes, 41 seconds.

Waheed used his prize money to make a down payment on a town house in Alexandria for his family. His lightning speed has propelled him into a managerial training program, and he also travels the country demonstrating his skills and preaching the virtues of pizza. "I love pizza," he says. "I eat pizza, if not three times a day, at least twice."

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