The reception Levy received from his peers,
whose ambitions were to be executives in large corporations,
was something less than enthusiastic.
“People looked at me like I was from
Mars,” he recalls. One admired professor even asked
him why he would want to be a “promoter,” a term
Levy says was a pejorative associated with get-rich-quick
schemes. He admits this initial reaction proved dispiriting,
but his self-confidence allowed him to persevere as an entrepreneur,
a role he likens to “being in business without a net.”
Today, he is chairman and CEO of Chicago-based
Levy Restaurants, an industry-leading food organization with
a network of acclaimed restaurants — including Spiaggia
in Chicago and Fulton’s Crab House in Orlando. The company
has pioneered the concept of catering in stadiums, arenas
and convention centers. The firm’s high-profile clients
include the leading market share of professional football,
baseball, hockey and basketball organizations, and marquee
events such as the Kentucky Derby, the Grammy Awards and major
sports finals and all-star games. In 2003, the company expects
to exceed $400 million in sales.
Levy also runs a successful real estate development
company and was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of
the Year for 2001.
These successes didn’t happen overnight.
Levy co-founded his company with his brother
Mark in 1978. The enterprise had its humble roots in a Michigan
Ave. delicatessen they created in 1976 that nearly failed.
“My brother and I saw a hole in the
Chicago market for an old-fashioned Jewish deli,” recalls
Levy. “We raised the money, guaranteed a loan and brought
all our friends into the investment.”
With pride and money on the line, the brothers
rolled up their sleeves and jumped in as day-to-day restaurateurs
They discovered a passion for creating memorable dining experiences
that brought guests back again. Soon the plan evolved into
creating many different food concepts, rather than replicating
one model as a franchise. Levy credits entrepreneurial spirit
for the ability to take this model a step further and deliver
great food experiences beyond the four walls of a restaurant.
“How we got started is a story of entrepreneurship
mixed with a passion for people and great food,” Levy
says. “It’s also an approach that today fuels
the development of our amazing employees — many of whom
speak of their own entrepreneurial passions. To me, that’s
one of the biggest compliments in the world.”
Levy’s modesty prevents him from
taking all the credit, and he’s eager to praise
his associates, including Levy Restaurants’ president
and COO, Andy Lansing, executive vice president and CFO
and Jeff Wineman, executive vice president of development,
But Kellogg School Adjunct Professor Art Frigo
believes Levy possesses truly extraordinary entrepreneurial
ability. A Levy friend of 20 years, Frigo says the CEO has
more entrepreneurial spirit than anyone he has ever met.
“Larry’s the ultimate risk taker,
but disciplined,” says Frigo. “He’s a great
listener who asks great questions and makes everyone around
him feel good.”
For his part, Levy believes good entrepreneurship
involves the philosophy that “there’s no such
thing as failure, only expensive learning experiences.”
He has other advice for would-be entrepreneurs,
Perhaps most importantly, he says, “Surround
yourself with great people, and know when to get out of the
One of Levy’s passions includes mentoring
others — as he has done through his relationship with
the Kellogg School. Most recently, he and his wife have made
a significant financial contribution to establish the Larry
and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice at Kellogg.
“Not only is Larry Levy an outstanding
entrepreneur whose vision and dedication have enabled him
to achieve so much, but he and Carol have also been true friends
to the Kellogg School,” says Kellogg Dean Dipak C. Jain.
“With this gift, Larry and Carol continue to nurture
yet another generation of entrepreneurs.”
Frigo isn’t surprised by this investment.
He says Levy has a real love for Kellogg.
“He thinks about all the jobs that Kellogg
entrepreneurs will create, and about the profound impact this
will have,” says Frigo.