This isn’t the first time Tom and Laura Westendorf have seen their business change. When LaRosa’s in Wyoming reopens Monday, the newly-renovated dining room is only the latest improvement to a family business that has been operating in the same location since 1922.
“My grandfather, Joe Westendorf, Sr., built the grocery store on the corner here,” says Tom, gesturing out the window at the intersection of Springfield Pike and Charlotte Avenue. Both his father and Tom himself worked in the family store. “When we went to deliver groceries, we would yell through the door, ‘Westendorf’s!’”
But the times were changing. K Mart opened a giant shopping center just up the street, complete with fast food joints, and the Westendorfs began to consider changing their store. When Tom was a senior in high school, his father, Joe Jr. got wind of a new business opportunity. Ed Eilers, who supplied bread to the grocery store, told them about the LaRosa’s Pizza franchise he had opened in Finneytown—the first of its kind. “We had a family meeting; it was either going to be a meat market, or pizza. Dad took his time deciding,” Tom says with a laugh. “We would have been the second franchise, but we ended up being the twelfth.” In 1972, 50 years after Westendorf’s opened, the family remodeled the grocery store themselves and turned it into LaRosa’s Pizza.
At first it was carryout only, but from the beginning, it was a success. So much so that by the time Tom and Laura were married in 1977, they had added a dining room, a carryout window, and delivery service. LaRosa’s has been a Wyoming fixture ever since. By 1990, the old grocery store needed more updating and repair than was feasible. The Westendorfs acquired the adjoining lots and constructed the existing building to fit their needs, adding computer systems at the same time. Until then, all orders were taken by hand over the phone.
This is the second time the restaurant has been made over since it was built. Tom says, “I told some regular customers we were planning to renovate. They nodded and said, ‘Yeah, it’s about time!’” The new dining room is lighter and airier, with windows that can open to the outside and a brighter color scheme. The walls are covered with photos celebrating life in Wyoming, and some of the booths by the windows have been replaced by tall, bar-style tables to give the feeling of an outdoor café.
Of course, almost everyone in Wyoming is a regular customer—or a former employee. “I keep having people come in and say, ‘I want to apply for a job; my dad used to work here!’” Tom says. That applies to the entire Westendorf family, too. Each of Tom and Laura’s three children —as well as their boyfriends, girlfriends, and eventually their spouses—spent time working at the restaurant, and often still do, although each has gone on to other careers. “My grandson, who just turned 16, just started working here,” Tom says. He holds up his hands. “I didn’t drag him in; he asked!”
The Westendorfs are very typical Wyoming family. Each of their children lives in the area, and four of their nine grandchildren attend Wyoming schools. (Three are too young. “We’re working on the other two,” jokes Laura.) Tom and Laura bought his grandmother’s old house on Mt. Pleasant Avenue in 1979, when the Wyoming Golf Club was still a farm. Their business is a dedicated supporter of Wyoming’s schools, churches, recreation center and more, supplying food for all manner of events. They’re recognized all over town. “Hey, there’s the pizza guy! Hey, it’s the pizza lady! We hear that all the time,” Tom says with a grin.
It’s all part of the close-knit community feeling they love, even as they’ve watched the city grow. “It was a much quieter place when I was younger,” Tom says. “But Wyoming has really evolved into a better place to live.”