Wayne LaVigne first got involved in the pizza business in 1965 at the age of 16, working at Northland Pizza in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His pay? Ham and Cheese Submarine Sandwiches, and the tips from making deliveries. (Wayne wasn’t crazy about pizza then because he never found a pie he liked).
Pizza boxes weren’t even around then. The pizza, back then, would be placed on a cardboard disk, and slipped inside a paper bag. The bad would be puffed up at the top, stapled the front closed and then put in a metal propane heated box within the trunk of a ’56 Chevy with the trunk lid removed.
“We would drive as far as 12 miles on dirt roads at something over 60mph for a $.50 delivery charge and maybe a quarter tip,” said Wayne. Wayne also worked for the railroad. When he got laid off from the railroad in ’79, he took a job delivering pizzas for a buck a pizza, and still had trouble getting more than a quarter tip. “I don’t know what it was, maybe it was my fancy $400 Volkswagon that I bought with all my Chrysler stock I sold that made the statement I didn’t need the money,” he said.
After saving his money from delivering pizza and attending an occasional poker game, along with his good credit, he bought two new 1980 AMC Spirits; one for himself, and the other for his brother which were used to escort trucks all over the country.
After about four years of driving with the escort business he founded, Wayne gave the business to his brother and became a full time house dad taking care of his two sons, Michael and Brian and two nieces, Jennifer and Shannon (both girls have been here in Orange County, with Jennifer working in our pizza business off and on for over 20-years!). Additionally, Wayne’s wife, Bonnie and her sister, Lila worked at Merril Lynch at this time.
Wayne augmented their income by playing Black Jack all over the Continent. He would drive and stay two weeks at a time in places like Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Atlantic City applying his trade. The trouble was Wayne could never build up enough bankroll due to all the expenses of the trips and various needs back home. That conclusion led to forming a partnership with a backer and a line of credit for $10,000 so that he could make money with minimum bets of $100. And so with all that he attained gambling (comps for all the rooms, meals, shows, air fair and at the end, an all-expense paid trip for Wayne and Bonnie, and eight other couples aboard the Trump Princess for a high rollers afternoon cruise) he decided this was not what he was supposed to be doing.
“One day, like many others, I would sit at the $5 table with people just like me, only I was playing two hands of $100 each or more wearing a suit and borrowed jewelry,” remembers Wayne. “It amazes me still, the character of people, would willingly sacrifice their $5 hand if they thought it would help a PLAYER like me. That’s when I decided I’m in the wrong profession. After all, who was benefitting from my labors? And what kind of an example was I being to my sons and nieces,”
Right about that time – the summer of ’89 – is when our family took a three week, 20 state visit out west to see their friend in California who tried earlier to convince the LaVigne’s to partner up and go into the pizza business. So while the friend was taking Bonnie and the kids to exotic places like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, Wayne stayed back and worked twelve hour days in his friend’s pizzeria learning everything he could.
So, Wayne, Bonnie, Michael and Brian decided to sell their house in Michigan, cash in their insurance and retirement, max out their credit cards and start a pizza business 2,600 miles away in Newport Beach called, Valentino’s. The trip coming back to California was almost a covered wagon-type story that Wayne remembers:
“We came out in the only transportation we had that fit everything we had…a 1966 Chevy step van that only went 50 miles per hour. It had no heater. It had no air conditioning, and had to stop every 100 miles for gas and oil. We couldn’t afford a U-Haul truck.” After three weeks of traveling and many repair stops, the family finally arrived in Socal.
They arrived. But just after nine months of partnering in Valentino’s, the partnership dissolved. “I had trouble with the fact the other fellow wanted to use ingredients like soy bean instead of using real sausage,” says LaVigne. “I couldn’t go any further with the continued disagreements over a basic concept called the truth.”
It was Wayne’s turn now. The family decided to go at it alone with a goal of making the best pizza possible at the lowest price, using only the finest ingredients and making them taste consistently the same every time.
It had been two years. Two years offering two for one pizza with free delivery. The menu consisted of salads, subs and lots of multiple sizes. As Wayne tells it, “It was time to heed the advice I had so freely given to my cousin at his pizza restaurant back home, and that was to offer one size pizza at the lowest possible price and drop everything else off the menu.”