Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Summer 2003Kellogg School of Management
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  Larry Levy
©Matthew Gilson
Larry Levy KSM '67, Chairman and CEO of Levy Restaurants
Portrait of an entrepreneur
Larry Levy turned a Chicago deli into a food empire. This Kellogg alum still has the passion and insights to help aspiring entrepreneurs achieve their dreams too

By Matt Golosinski

Like the best entrepreneurs, Larry Levy had too much faith in himself to let others stop him from pursuing his dreams.

The 1967 Kellogg School alum remembers being “a focused, intense student” who was an avowed entrepreneur — a word he used to describe his passion and what he was going to do with his MBA degree.


See the related articles:
The soul of entrepreneurship, Class acts,
Faculty forum: Revolutionary Innovation and
High stakes on the home front


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 Bob Seiffert, and Jeff Wineman, executive vice president of development, among others.

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, including:

  • Learn from your mistakes — and then never make them again
  • Be prepared emotionally for entrepreneurship’s ups-and-downs
  • Be willing to live with fear, risk and occasional failure
  • Understand, nurture and refine your vision of the enterprise
  • Line your business up with your passions

Perhaps most importantly, he says, “Surround yourself with great people, and know when to get out of the way.”

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.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University