CINCINNATI -- He can still work a room like no Buddy’s business.
Sixty years of making people feel welcome will do that for a soul and Buddy LaRosa is at heart a host. Buddy, his family and the organization they’ve built together welcomed a who’s who of Cincinnatians to their 60th anniversary celebration Monday night.
But as is always the case, even those who weren’t on the guest list and walked in for a pie or hoagie were just as warmly embraced to the Boudinot Avenue mother ship.
Though its reach has expanded greatly in recent years, its walls are festooned with pictures and posters regaling diners with an informal history of the west side. Most notably are pictures of athletes of the week from all corners of the high school sports realm and group representations of each year’s class of inductees to the LaRosa’s High School Hall of Fame. It is the most comprehensive compilation of high school talent in the country.
LaRosa's owes its existence to a fire that decimated the original pizzeria back in 1973. That’s when an ad hoc task force of kids from Elder, La Salle, Oak Hills and Western Hills high schools descended on the still smoking remnants and helped Buddy start the rebuilding process.
“Were it not for those kids, I don’t know what would have happened,” he told me some years back. “And because of their belief in me, I decided to pay tribute to them with the Athlete of the Week program and later with our Hall of Fame. It is the biggest and best in the country. They deserve it.”
For all of his public support of traditional stick and ball sports, Buddy has quietly and sometimes not so quietly, lavished attention and money on kids outside the mainstream. Inner city kids. Specifically, boxers. His devotion to Aaron Pryor and Tommy Ayers among others is legendary in boxing circles. He went to the wall for those guys and others, only to reap more heartache than hardware. Oh there was Aaron’s world junior welterweight championship but at inestimable emotional cost to Buddy. Yet he kept wading in for more. And still talks wistfully of a state of the art training center.
That’s for the future.
In the here and now, it’s all about the man, his family, his dining empire and the loyal subjects who will express their fealty for life. On the way to Monday’s gathering, I got a chuckle out of a new billboard campaign that if memory serves me reads like this: “We may argue about chili and ice cream but there is only one Cincinnati pizza. LaRosas.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Congratulations Buddy to you and your entire family.
To quote Carly Simon, “Nobody does it better.'
And that's my 2 cents.
Dennis Janson's "My 2 cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday on WCPO.com. His video commentary airs every Friday at 6 p.m.