Round Table Pizza

EricS.

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Now encompassing 414 locations across eight states, Round Table Pizza spawned from humble, hand-drawn beginnings as the singular vision of one man with a big dream.

Bill Larson, a Navy man in the 1950s, was first exposed to pizza overseas—in Japan, not Italy. Upon his U.S. return, he worked for companies like Coca-Cola and Safeway, then a couple of pizza restaurants. But he wanted to make his own mark in California’s Bay Area and created the blueprints for his own business, a pizza concept that opened in Menlo Park in 1959. “My dad had all square tables, which my grandfather constructed, plus one round redwood table,” recalls Bob Larson, Bill’s son. “Since pizza is a sharing food that you sit around as a group, he connected the round pizza with the round table and called it Round Table Pizza.”

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Bob hails his dad’s journey as “a true American success story,” first outlined in “The Bible”—Bill’s book with painstaking floor plan sketches and original recipes. Indeed, the origins and booming growth behind this now-sizable chain were remarkably single-handed. Bill simply wanted to create a gathering space with a family focus. His initial success was so impressive that he started franchising immediately, starting with his second location—opened in 1962, in Los Altos, and still owned by the same family today. “My dad ran the business until 1976, and it had 225 stores when he sold—in all those years, he didn’t close a single store,” Bob marvels. “The business has changed hands three times since, but back then he had no partners—just his four kids and my mom, Toni, who supported him while he grew the business.”

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roundtable-flyerRound Table has since ballooned to 400-plus locations in eight states, now overseen by Atlanta-based Global Franchise Group. Bob, who bought his first store in 1987 after growing up in the business, now oversees the original and third locations, and the original retains its retro charm. Rebuilt by Bill in 1976, just before he sold the business, the pizzeria pays homage to its namesake King Arthur-era theme and reflects the distinct architectural vibes of Bill’s beloved Solvang, California.

Today, Bob continues to champion his dad’s focus on freshness (Round Table store operators still roll their own pizza dough) while establishing a genuine connection with customers. Iconic commercials that ran in the ’80s and ’90s dubbed Round Table “the last honest pizza,” and Bob thinks that label still fits. “People sometimes disparage franchises, like we’re not part of the community, but we’re the epitome of small businesses. We started off as mom-and-pops,” Bob says. “I’m a pizza man, and I’m very proud of that. I love being behind the counter, serving customers. I feel like it’s been a 40-year marriage with them. You develop a bond, and they tend to believe they own part of you. So it’s not just my place—it’s their place, too.”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.

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