Remembering El Paso Legend Larry Gold and Hello Pizza
It has been a little more than year since we lost Larry Gold. The Brooklyn, New York native arrived in El Paso in the late 1970s and he opened a pizza restaurant on North Mesa. It turns out that Larry worked in Brooklyn at a drug store that my grandmother used to frequent. When the Golds arrived in El Paso in 1979, it was an instant connection.
Pizza Plus was where I had my 7th birthday party. Larry moved on to other pizza ventures, including Sbarro's and Lorenzos. However, it was Hello Pizza that launched his lasting legacy in El Paso. The restaurant was located in an Upper Valley strip center on Country Club Road near Tennis West and it first opened in 1987. It was a regular lunch spot for me and some friends during high school when we would drive over to eat two slices and a soda for five dollars and listen to stories from Larry.
Hello Pizza was the closest thing to New York that anyone could get here in the Borderland. Larry prided himself on not only making New York style pizza, but bringing in bagels, pastrami and corned beef, smoked fish, black and white cookies, Dr. Brown's soda, Italian ices, and many other delicacies that were usually found in the Big Apple. As the restaurant became a fixture on the westside, he would frequently sell out his specialty Italian dinners while his patrons would eagerly await the next big meal. As his reputation grew, Larry was known as "The Pizza Man." He even identified with that moniker on his cellphone's voice message.
Larry was also a huge pro wrestling fan and he would often deliver pizzas to the hotels that they would stay at every times they came to El Paso for a house show. It was not uncommon to see empty pizza boxes signed by The Macho Man Randy Savage, The Big Bossman, The Ultimate Warrior, New York native Paul Roma, and even Hulk Hogan displayed proudly inside Hello Pizza.
As good as his pizza was, the stories were even better. Larry loved to talk about his celebrity encounters. My favorite was that Bruce Willis and Demi Moore stopped by Hello Pizza on a secret trip to El Paso. Apparently Willis collected Corvettes and he would fly into Santa Teresa Airport to visit a collector who lived in El Paso. Larry would also cater celebrity dinners in Las Vegas or Los Angeles and he showed us some terrific pictures of himself along with A List celebrities from a Jennifer Aniston party that he had recently worked in LA alongside famous chef Rick Bayliss. He was also friendly with Emeril Lagasse.
Larry was also a family man. Over the years, all of his children worked at Hello Pizza and he remained close to them and his ex-wife Robin up until the time of his passing. They often met together in Las Vegas at the International Pizza Expo, where he received the highest honor for being named a finalist.
Over the years, Larry would call into SportsTalk when he had a little downtime. "It's The Pizza Man", he would say when he called into the show. The New York Yankees were always his favorite sports team, to talk about on the show and he had lots of Yankees memorabilia inside his restaurant.
The last time that I saw Larry was about a month before his death. We had been talking on the phone and I told him about a terrific Italian restaurant in Las Cruces that made delicious New York style pizza. He told me to come by Hello Pizza and bring my family because he wanted us to try a new pizza that he was getting ready to introduce. We arrived on a Tuesday night when Hello Pizza was closed. However, Larry was there and he hosted us for the evening. The first thing he did that night was proudly show off his 1978 Thurman Munson salesman's sample Yankees World Series ring that he had recently acquired. Then, he gave my son Joel the ultimate pizza experience, which included an opportunity for an eight-year old to shape the dough and add sauce and cheese on his pizza. Larry also made a vegetarian pizza for us that he called "Pizza Giardiniera", which featured the special spicy Italian pickled vegetables that are a staple in Chicago and other areas. As you would expect, the pizza was delicious and Larry was excited about its upcoming launch. It was such a great night and we could not stop talking about his new pizza.
One year later, the store's location on Country Club has turned into another pizza restaurant. The style is different and it offers more of the conventional pizza and wing items like you see around the city. That is a good thing, since nobody would be able to duplicate what Larry Gold built in El Paso for more than 40 years. His pizza might be only a memory, but the legacy he left on so many people will last a lifetime.