Winnipeg, Manitoba

Larry Pagdato bucks the trend

Analysis

Teodoro Alcuitas

Editor, Philippine Canadian news.com

There is a perception that Filipinos do not go into business and instead become entrepreneurs, preferring to be employed.

A Winnipeg immigrant defies the conventional wisdom and embarked on his own business 30 years ago and is still going strong.

Larry Pagdato arrived in Winnipeg with his family in 1977 with nothing, he told The Metro in an interview.

He started to work for several pizza places in the city, starting out as a driver, then a cook, before managing his own Gondola Pizza location.

But when he was ready to go on its own, he could not get a business loan and was denied by almost every bank. He took a gamble and went through a private investor and bought a storefront. His 1765 Main St. location was originally a Tony’s Pizza franchise and after several years he converted it to his own brand – Pizzaland. Times were tough at that time, with interest high, but he struggled with the help of his family. His mom had to have various jobs in order to pitch in and his brothers and father and other relatives helped.

Today, after 30 years in the business he wants to give back to the community that supported him.

Pagdato said he wants to share the company’s success and celebrate 30 years in business by helping others.

“We came to Canada with nothing. (Surviving) this long, it was a big family effort,” Pagdato said. “This is our time to give back. We want to help other people … who might be struggling,” he told The Metro.

He’s giving away pizzas to community organizations around Winnipeg. Throughout August and September, Pizzaland donated to The Missionaries of Charity Manitoba, Agape Table and  Lighthouse Missions.

Family business

Larry brought his brother Ernie into the business to run the Portage pizza place.

Since then, Pizzaland has become a full-fledged family institution, with Ernie’s son Chris taking over the Portage location and a plethora of family members and friends working as drivers, cooks and supervisors over the years.

“I’ve been working here since I was 13. I’m 28 now,” said Joshua Pagdato, a cook at the Main Street location and Larry’s nephew.

“This place has been here my whole life. My grandma actually used to stay upstairs. And everybody calls this guy ‘Uncle Larry.’

“I have to change the name from Pizzaland to Uncle Larry’s Pizzaland,” Larry told the Free Press.

Larry said Pizzaland’s family vibe, as well as such popular pies as Susie’s Special and Smoky BBQ Chicken, has resulted in a very devoted clientele.

In addition to the north and west sides of the city, Larry said Pizzaland has a faithful fan base in such areas as Transcona and St. Vital, with his pizzas even travelling beyond the Perimeter.

“We have out-of- towners, Selkirk, Tyndall, even as far as Riverton. Some of them they work in the city so on the way home they pick up,” said Larry, who lives in Linden Woods.

“I’ve made so many friends over the years … (My customers) started calling me ‘Uncle Larry,’”

Pagdato said, laughing. “Everyone from my nieces, nephews, customers, employees … Everyone calls me Uncle Larry. They’re like my adopted family, that’s how I do business.”

“People move out of town, they go to another province and first thing they do when they come back is call us and order a pizza.”

In addition to calls for pizza, Larry said he receives plenty of calls for positions.

“I have staff that used to work here in the beginning, now they send their kids here. ‘Hey Larry, my kid needs a job.’ I say ‘OK, they start tomorrow.’”

Larry said Pizzaland has 18 staff and pumps out about 1,200 pizzas a week. He said the pizza business can be demanding, but he’s rarely crusty.

“Sometimes you get tired, but when I get a customer calling back saying ‘Larry, that was the best pizza I ever had,’ it makes me want to do more,” he said.

As the only Filipino pizzeria in town, could Pizzaland be another Kelekis Restaurant in the making? The Winnipeg icon that existed for 81 years also located on Main St. in the North end closed in 2013.