What Bob Larson learned about the family business from his father, founder Bill Larson
From the time he was 12 years old, Bob Larson was working in his father’s pizzeria. It was his summer job every year, and even though he ultimately worked at almost every job you could have at Round Table Pizza, he’s never found one better than the one he still holds 41 years later: franchise owner.
As one of Round Table Pizza founder Bill Larson’s 9 children — Bob falls squarely in the middle among his 2 brothers and 6 sisters — working in the family business was kind of expected. Bob is the only one who stuck with it, though, and the only one left in the family business. When he meets people who have driven thousands of miles just to take a photo in front of the Menlo Park restaurant, known as Round Table Pizza No. 1, he knows he made the right choice.
“I worked in the stores every summer,” Bob says. “I was the only kid who had a 9-5 job Monday through Friday. Most of us had paper routes back then, but I was pulling down great cash. Those managers didn’t know what to make of me. They had me scrubbing toilets and scraping all the bubblegum from beneath the tables. They wouldn’t break me; I did whatever they asked. It was a great experience.”
Even today, Bob still gets behind the counter to ring up orders and even buses tables. “You know what? I’m good at it,” he says. “I never say to myself, ‘Oh, I’m the owner, I don’t have to do that.’ I enjoy it. I enjoy every part of it.
“Growing up in the business, I worked in my teens in the main office and I became the assistant to the main truck driver. We delivered the dough and commissary to all the stores and I got to meet all the owners. It was a way to see the business from another side.”
Growing up Round Table
His father launched the Round Table empire before Bob was even born, opening that Menlo Park store in 1959. By the time Bill Larson sold the chain in 1978, he had amassed 225 stores. He remained involved, and Bob thinks his father’s core values are still evident in the business today. Bill Larson’s original recipes for sauce and dough are still in use, and our system remains committed to the quality of the ingredients and providing a place where friends and family can gather.
“My dad was always so generous, the most generous person in the world,” Bob says. “He always said to me, ‘whatever you contribute to the community, the community will give back to you.’ I donate locally as much as I can. You have to be part of it.”
Bob’s two stores — he owns a location in Palo Alto in addition to the Menlo Park restaurant — are close enough for him to be in the restaurants every day, if he feels like it. And he typically asks his general manger to put him on the schedule.
“You can’t be in this business if you’re not a people person,” Bob says.
Like his father before him, Bob thrives on those relationships. It’s one of the reasons he never wanted to become a huge multi-unit operator. With just two restaurants, he is able to spend more time with his employees and with his customers. As he has scaled back his hours somewhat in recent years, Bob has noticed one thing that’s true today more than ever.
“People crave reliability and familiarity,” he says. “Nowadays, many restaurants are going completely away from that, and it’s a cattle approach. I feel like we may be holding onto something, something people hold near and dear. Round Table Pizza definitely holds a special place in people’s hearts, especially in California.”
A recent encounter with some longtime customers reminded him of the importance of that familiarity.
“I always work Fridays, although recently I’ve been taking more time off. A couple of my regular customers came in and said, ‘Bob, we haven’t seen you lately.’ They’re about 80, I guess, and they’ve been coming here forever. I told them I’d been taking some time off. They put their hand on my arm and said, ‘You know, Bob, we don’t just come here for the pizza.’ ”
No do-overs needed
Round Table Pizza customers, like Bob himself, are “extremely loyal. I think the brand has a very strong draw,” he says.
Bob knows he had choices growing up. A voracious reader who still loves books and newspapers, he has no doubt he would have thrived in a college environment. But the pull of Round Table never really left him, even as his siblings drifted off through the years to find other passions, different careers.
“I feel very proud to be a franchisee,” he says. “We have people who roll dough 9 hours a day. No other pizza chain has that, not Pizza Hut, not Domino’s. These are craftsmen. This is why we’re more expensive. I truly believe it makes a big difference in the pizza, and my customers agree.”
It doesn’t look like any of his own three children, ages 20, 17 and 15, are headed into the family business anytime soon, but Bob and his wife, Susie, who does the bookkeeping, are happy to keep on keeping on. And Bob would unequivocally recommend the franchise to potential candidates.
“If you were going to put your money somewhere, I still believe in the brand. This is one where you can do extremely well. People, like in any business, want consistency. That’s what we’re always striving for.”
To learn more
Round Table Pizza is an iconic West Coast brand with more than 450 franchise locations in California and other Western states. If you’d like to learn more about the Round Table Pizza franchise opportunity, please fill out the form to download our free franchise report or take a look at our research pages.