Buddy LaRosa, more than a restaurateur

LaRosa has been serving his entire adult life, and not just pizzas and ravioli. Buddy is a talented businessman in large part because of his sincere interest in people.

Buddy and his wife JoAnn (also known as Jo-Jo) opened their first pizzeria, a location LaRosa described as “a hole in the wall,” on Boudinot Avenue in Westwood in 1954. They bought the pizza oven with $400 from a cashed in insurance policy.

Only two other pizzerias existed in Cincinnati at the time, but LaRosa knew it was growing in popularity on the East Coast and he also had an edge – his Aunt Dena’s recipe for tomato sauce. From that base, the company has grown to 65 pizzerias, not just in Greater Cincinnati, but in Dayton, Columbus and soon, Knoxville.

Today, LaRosa’s employs nearly 1,500 people. The family-owned company ranked 66th on the 2014 Deloitte Cincinnati USA list of the largest privately held firms in the Cincinnati region, with 2013 revenues of just under $140 milion.

Behind those employment numbers are the stories of countless high school and college students who not only earned money by working for LaRosa, but learned what it means to be responsible.

Over the years, LaRosa has developed a special relationship with students. When a fire nearly destroyed his first restaurant in April 1973, young West Siders rallied. With the help of their coaches, they rebuilt the pizzeria in 40 days when the architects estimated it would take a minimum of six months.

With a seemingly boundless commitment to Cincinnati youth, LaRosa usually travels with his pockets stuffed with coupons for free pizza, and in 1975 he founded Buddy LaRosa’s High School Sports Hall of Fame. He is also the founder of the Cincinnati Golden Gloves for Youth Boxing Program that provides urban youths the opportunity to develop lifetime skills through hard work and discipline.

His restaurants are more than places to eat. Thousands of Cincinnati couples have incorporated stories into their family lore about going to a LaRosa’s on a first date. Dozens have stories of the personal kindnesses LaRosa has personally shown them over the years.

Susan Ulrich of Aurora, Ind. remembers when they took her four-year-old daughter to LaRosa’s soon after she had open heart surgery. When LaRosa heard the story from the waitress, he came out to meet them. He “became our waiter for the remainder of the meal and waited on us hand and foot. We’ll never forget his kindness.”

For 60 years, Buddy LaRosa has built a thriving business and a deep well of support by sticking to his favorite quote, “Good Better Best, Never Let It Rest, Until Your Good Is Better and Your Better Is Best.”

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