Issue date: January 26, 2000
By ANNE H. KIM
It was 1959, and Bay Area young people were rocking to the music of Fats Domino, Hawaii had become the 50th state and a 26-year-old cheese delivery man named William Larson decided to park his delivery truck for good and open his own pizza parlor.
After learning his trade at a pizza parlor called Hambones in Santa Monica, the Palo Alto native took his savings -- $1,000 -- and bought the old water works building at 1235 El Camino Real in Menlo Park.
On December 21, 1959, the first Round Table Pizza Parlor and Pub (named after the only item of furniture on hand) opened for business. Featured items included a giant-sized Bill's Special Combination pizza, which could be had for a whopping $3.17 -- the most expensive item on the menu.
Since then, the original shop relocated to 1225 El Camino Real in Menlo Park and other shops opened in Los Altos and Palo Alto. Today, Mr. Larson's $1,000 investment has grown to about 600 shops in 11 Western states.
"I never really dreamt it would get that big," says Mr. Larson, who is now 66 years old. "I just wanted to provide the best quality pizza in a family environment. It was fun building it."
Mr. Larson sold about 75 percent of the private franchise corporation to partners in 1978. In 1979, Mr. Larson retired and spent the next 10 years traveling and collecting unusual art and artifacts, which he features in his World of Legends store in Los Altos. Five years ago, the controlling partners bought out Mr. Larson's remaining 25 percent.
Although he is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the company he founded, Mr. Larson's nine children and 25 grandchildren have carried on the tradition.
Most of them have helped sell pizzas in some way and three of his children -- Bob, 36; Linda, 39; and Debbie, 41 -- own and operate their own shops in Palo Alto, Los Altos and in Menlo Park, including the original on El Camino Real. On some days, Bob Larson can even be found on the other end of the telephone, taking orders.
"Customers want and deserve customer service and I enjoy it," said Bob Larson. "I'm a people person and you wouldn't be in this business unless you are. I'm very proud to be a part of the original pizza family."