Lew Mason: Restaurant Owner Puts personality Into Franchise
When Lew Mason, the owner of Ledo Pizza and Pasta in Laurel, came to Annapolis, he saw the same thing the city's original settlers saw - a beautiful area with lots of opportunity.
"There is so much potential in this area," he says. "And there was no Ledo Pizza."
That's because the franchise owners, who live in the city, wanted to keep the Annapolis market for themselves.
"So I told them, if you ever want to sell that area, please call me," Lew says. "And one day they did. I know the area is dear to their hearts, so the fact that he came to me first was very flattering."
Of course, Lew was no stranger to the Ledo Pizza franchise. He had opened the sixth Ledo Pizza 14 years ago and it has proven to be one of the more successful ones. His Annapolis restaurant, located in the new Village Greens Shopping Center on Forest Drive, is now the 70th and in the three months that it has been open, sales have been better than projected.
"Things are going very well," he says. "People who come into our restaurant tell us that they are really grateful we are here."
And Lew is there, both figuratively and literally. He can often be found in the warm, family-style dining room greeting customers for both lunch and dinner, which in Annapolis is their busiest time.
"There are more families here in Annapolis so the rush starts going at 5:30 p.m.," says Lew, a boater who lives in Montgomery County but is looking to move to a home just around the corner from his Annapolis restaurant. "I try and greet as many customers as I can. I feel like I am welcoming them into my home. I've shaken more hands and kissed more babies - you'd think I was running for mayor. "
Bill and Pat Boteler, who live just down the street from the restaurant and have been going there once a week since it opened on Oct. 17, said Lew's presence at the restaurant is one of its best selling points.
"When you visit a restaurant, you like to be greeted," Bill says. "I told him just the other day that he adds a real personality to the place."
"Being Mr. personality can be hard work sometimes," Lew says, but he loves it.
"You definitely get a sense of accomplishment running your own business," he says. "It's all up to you whether it succeeds or fails."
Lew especially loves running a Ledo Pizza restaurant - an affection that dates all the way back to his childhood.
"I grew up in Adelphi, near College Park, where they opened the first Ledo Pizza," he says. "My family would go there every two weeks and it was a very happy time for us."
When he was older and working in computer sales, he heard there was a Ledo Pizza opening up in two other towns and he thought the original owners might be franchising.
"I called them up and they were!" he says, his eyes still brightening at the memory even years later.
Lew decided right then and there that he wanted to open his own Ledo Pizza. Since then, Lew says he has become one of the Ledo family, even serving on the company's advisory board.
"I know it sounds kind of corny, but that's what it feels like - a family," he says. "The people who run the franchise are very down-to-earth, above-board folks. If God forbid I ever had a death in the family, I know I could pick up the phone and a group of Ledo employees would be here the next day to help run the business in my absence."
Lew is now focused on making his Annapolis restaurant as successful as his Laurel one. He and his son, Chip Noland, who co-owns the restaurant along with Lew's wife, Joan, plan to build an outside dining area that will feature acoustic music by next summer and expand the menu to include specials with more local flavor such as shrimp and artichoke fettuccini alfredo.
"The pizza gets people in here but it's the variety of the menu, such as the pasta dishes and salads, that keep people coming back," Chip says.
In addition to pizza, the restaurant serves appetizers such as chicken and artichoke bruschetta, salads, Italian entrees, hamburgers with lots of choices of toppings, subs, calzones and specialty pizzas such as Hawaiian or Buffalo pizza with hot sauce.
Pizza, nevertheless, remains most people's favorites, especially Lew's.
"It never gets old," he says. "The sweet sauce and the flaky crust... It still has its mystique after all these years."
Lew says what makes Ledo pizza different from many other pizzas is that the crust is made fresh daily in the store -- in fact every two hours - as well as the sauce.
"We roll every pizza out individually so the pizzas appear and taste very homemade," he says. "Plus, we use smoked provolone cheese from whole milk. Most places use mozzarella because it's less expensive, but provolone is good and fatty and keeps the pizza nice and moist."
The result is "excellent," Bill says.
"My wife and I have been eating at the Ledo Pizza in College Park for more than 25 years," he says. "We've been looking forward to this one opening up for a long time."