Larry Levy ’67
Pioneering entrepreneur leads by example and philanthropy
By Kevin Hoban based on the reporting of Matt Golosinski
[Ed. note: the following profile is based on two previous interviews Mr. Levy granted to the Kellogg School]
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.
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, Levy serves as Chairman and CEO Levy Organization, a real estate development company, as well as Managing Partner of Levy Family Partners, a principal investment company.
The venture at the heart of his story, however, is the Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, where he’s Founder and Chairman. The industry-leading food organization has 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.
His remarkable career resulted in him winning Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year for 2001. But these successes didn’t happen overnight.
Levy co-founded his Levy Restaurants with his brother Mark in 1978. The enterprise had its humble roots in a Michigan Avenue delicatessen they opened in 1976.
“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.
Today Levy is focused on ideas that help other entrepreneurs. In 2003, he and his wife made a significant financial contribution to establish the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice at the Kellogg School, and in 2007 made an additional gift to create the Carol and Larry Levy Social Entrepreneurship Lab.
"I still have plenty of fire in the belly to make a difference,” Levy says. “But rather than leading ventures exclusively, I'm now happy supporting others' efforts too."
Posted June 2008