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Recognize & Celebrate businesses & people

Great Living Cincinnatians: Honorees

Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.

Donald S. “Buddy” LaRosa

Awarded In 2015

Buddy 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 (Jo-Jo) opened their first pizzeria, “a hole in the wall,” on Boudinot Avenue in Western Hills in 1954 with a pizza oven they bought with $400 from a cashed in insurance policy.

Only two other pizzerias existed in Cincinnati at the time, but Buddy 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 family pizzerias, not just in greater Cincinnati, but in Dayton, Columbus and soon, Knoxville.

Today, LaRosa’s employs nearly 1,500 people. Behind that number are the stories of countless high school and college students who not only earned money, but learned what it means to be responsible. Over the years, Buddy 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, Buddy 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 inner city youth 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 Buddy has shown them over the years. Susan Ulrich of Aurora, Indiana remembers when they took their four-year-old daughter to LaRosa’s soon after she had open heart surgery. When Buddy 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.”

Nominate a Great Living Cincinnatian

Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization