Aside from his faith and his family, Larry White loves two things these days: fishing and serving customers at Larry’s Pizza, a restaurant chain bearing his name.
You might think as he’s gotten a bit older, he’d be focusing more on the fish than the pizza, but with White, you’d be mistaken.
“I’ve been blessed. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “People ask me all the time when I’m going to retire and I ask them, ‘How can you retire when you love what you’re doing?’ So, if I’m not fishing, I’d just as soon be up [at the Bryant restaurant] working.”
White’s path to the restaurant business and pizza perfection certainly wasn’t a straight line. In fact, he’ll tell you he still struggles with the art of cooking, in general. “I only cook for myself at home. I need my wife to help me start a charcoal grill. I usually just cook with gas.”
Growing up in Mississippi, White transferred to Benton with Goodyear Tire Company in 1981. “I fell in love with this part of the world and said I was never leaving.”
Six years later, White decided he needed a change of direction, wanting to work for himself. So he opened a video rental store in Southwest Little Rock. “I’ve always wanted to own my own business, but it was never about status,” he said. “My father had his own little business when I was growing up, and I always work for him since I was a kid.”
In 1992, White realized the video rental industry was turning south, and he needed a new plan. So, with an uncertain direction mapped out, he did the one thing he knew would help clear his mind. “You do your best thinking either early in the morning or for me when I’m out fishing,” he said. “So I spent the day fishing and thinking about what to do.”
While trout fishing the Little Red River, White took a break to get advice from a friend and fellow small business owner in nearby Greenbrier. That friend owned the restaurant Joe’s Pizza.
“He told me I should open a pizza shop,” he said. “I told him I didn’t know how to cook, didn’t know the first thing about how to make the dough. Joe said, ‘Well I’ll show you how to make the dough. I’ll give you my recipe, and you can get it right.’ From there, I figured that if I could make a pizza I liked, then someone else would probably like it, too,” he added.
White’s first building, once his
video rental store, was renamed “Larry’s Pizza.” It seated close to two-dozen customers, and as he had accurately surmised, White made a pizza people would like.
“I like my pizza without a lot of sauce and with a lot of meat,” he said. “I love pepperoni pizza, so I like a lot of those on there.”
Customers clearly agreed and have continued coming back for more than 20 years. “There are people who came to me when we first opened and still come to me today on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s so hard to get a customer, but it’s even harder to keep them, and that’s what we want to do. We keep an atmosphere that is family-friendly because that is what we value.”
The success of “Larry’s Pizza” has spread throughout Arkansas. With an estimated 16 license agreements to other owners currently in existence, White said owning and operating multiple locations on his own never panned out.
“I used to own three, but I can only be in one place at a time,” he said. “I know some of these guys who have two or three shops. I just don’t how to do it myself.”
White still owns the Bryant restaurant, located at 4500 Highway 5 North. He doesn’t just show up and pass the time glad-handing the customers either. He’s in the kitchen, slinging dough and baking pizzas the best way he knows how.
“My goal of the pizza shop is that when you leave I want you to be full and feel like you’ve been appreciated,” he said.
White says that’s also his philosophy where young people are concerned. “It’s with our schools, churches and businesses,” he said. “Our children are what matter. Think about it with our churches. If we’re not growing [the congregations] from our younger members, how do we expect the church to grow?”
For that reason, White makes it a point to help out, focusing on area youth programs, with his philanthropic giving to local non-profits, churches and the Boys and Girls Club. Another place White tries to positively influence young people’s lives is by serving as a positive example to them through his restaurant.
“I want these kids to eat with me when they’re young,” he said. “I want them to go away to college, and when they come home, I want them to come see me and let me know how they’re doing. I’m so thrilled when they do.”
It’s a simple approach that has paid dividends for White, his family and the communities they serve. “I’ve far, far exceeded my expectations,” he said.
And when the ovens are cooled and the lights turned down, then it’s time to go fishing. Like he said, it’s where Larry does his best thinking. Who knows what he’ll think of next.