CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - In 1954, when Buddy LaRosa opened his first neighborhood pizzeria on Cincinnati's West Side, his Sicilian-born father told him he was crazy. "You gonna sell pizza? 'Med-i-gans never gonna buy pizza from you," he said.
Who could argue with him? After all, in 1954 many Americans had never even heard of pizza.
As sons will do, Buddy went ahead with his plan anyway. So began the story of LaRosa's Pizzerias, which has since grown into 60 locations across the Tri-State.
Tricia Macke caught up with Buddy in his private kitchen at the original location.
"You have the zest and the energy to do something you love. And it's not work. It's passion, and I always tell kids and I told my kids, try many things until you find something in life that you have passion and a zeal for and then go for it. Give it 110%," he said. "Then it's really not work, everything you do adds to that love, and the love just gets deeper. Just like relationships with the family, your love just gets deeper then you have family, the family gets bigger and then they have grandkids, and that's what my business is."
It turns out, Buddy's dad wanted him to sell potatoes rather than pizza. Tricia asked, "When you look at this photo of your dad in front of this first store, what do you think your dad would say about it?"
"Oh, he thought I would make a mistake. He said they always need potatoes in this town. He said, if you sell potatoes you'll be better off, so I didn't take his advice. I joined the Navy and then that's when I saw the world and I saw pizza in every city, back in Philly matter of fact, that's where I got the idea, and when I came back home I didn't go back into the food and vegetable business. I went ahead and opened up a pizza parlor," Buddy explained.
All of his recipes come from family, including his mother's sister Bernadette, or 'Dena' for short. According to Buddy, Aunt Dena was the best cook in the family! And at 83-years-old, he credits his pizza dynasty to the help of an incredible team.
Besides Cincinnati pizza, he's also the champ in another ring. Buddy is a longtime boxing manager and promoter.
"Challenges of life today, of succeeding the pressures, boxing takes care of the frustrations and the rage that are in some people. And they learn to control, and learn to stay in school, because if they don't maintain the B they don't get to box. And if they don't get to box, they don't get the treats of traveling, the benefits of traveling, of education, taking kids on tournaments," he explained.
He's trained several successful boxers, including three-time Olympian Rau'shee Warren and three-time world champion Adrien Broner.
"And, you know, everybody isn't going to turn pro. We are more interested in developing young men that are going to find their niche in life, whether it's going to be a career in construction, in going to college to be a teacher, or any field with endeavor. Teach them that's it's easy to succeed in life, as long as you pay the price, the price is sacrifice, just like you do to be a successful boxer. You got to get up early, to go to work hard, stay late a little bit, take a little work home with you, and try many jobs. All work is honorable," he told Tricia.
Buddy is also the father of four kids. He would have been married 60 years to his late wife, JoJo, this year.
"We have benefits of going from rags to riches. Not really rags, but we lived in the community. We lived in the second floor, shared a bath, and I was working, you know. I had many jobs besides the produce. I worked to supplement. She stayed at home as a homemaker. I sold napa leather shoes. I sold different things on commission basis," he explained.
After returning home from the Navy, he decided to open a pizzeria in Cincinnati upon seeing its success in Philadelphia.
"I found a little location up here on Boudinot venue. $100 was the first month rent, and well the rest is history. Nothing's easy, but by gosh, I had a fire in 1953. It closed me up and the insurance adjuster said in nine months you'll be out of business. Nine months," he said.
A group of coaches and teams from area schools like Western Hills, Elder and Oak Hills helped him get the pizzeria back in business.
"They looked like an Amish barn rising. It was amazing," Buddy joked. "29 days we were back in business. That store always kind of touches me... I said, 'well I got to keep doing it'."
And he did!