“Frontliners” is a new limited series from RYOT in partnership with Yahoo News that tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic from the point of view of individuals doing what they can to help their communities. In this episode, we meet Larry Galper, founder of NOLA Love Pizza in New Orleans. During the early days of the pandemic, this Hollywood agent turned pizza chef began by raffling free pizzas to those in need over Instagram, starting a new business he hopes to take nationwide.
LARRY GALPER: I wrote one mission statement for NOLA Love Pizza. And then I read it to myself. And then I wrote another one. And I realized it wasn't just about COVID. It was just about showing love to wherever love needed to be shown.
The plan and the mission was simple. I'm going to wake up. I'm going to make as many pizzas as I can. And I'm going to go feed as many deserving people as I can.
My name is Larry Galper. And I am a cook living here in New Orleans and the founder and creator and operator of NOLA Love Pizza. And it all kind of happened as a result of the happiest of accidents.
I got the one thing I love doing the most taken away from me by COVID, which is cooking for people. I ended up working at a place called Jewel of the South. Our GM said, I'm going to lay everyone off, the entire staff, and shut down the restaurant.
So I just started making a pizza a day and using Instagram to kind of raffle them off. I would ask riddles or my stories. Whoever got it right that day got a pizza. I'd take a picture of them when I deliver it. Kind of became a thing.
My friends started getting super competitive about it. That lasted 24 hours because the chef and mentor that I worked for bought my first two pies and said to me, donate them to someone who you think should get them. Everything with love, every pizza.
That kind of snowballed into donations from all around the world. And it just started pouring in, people saying, keep feeding the front line. And I'll never forget. I was making pizzas right there, five feet from where I'm talking right now. And my Venmo started going off like a Vegas slot machine. It was insane.
And I looked in the mirror one day. I was like, this is it. This is my full-time thing. I'm going to make as many god damn pizzas as possible. And that's how we're going to show the community that we love them, we got their back.
More times than not, I'll spend the time walking, contemplating how the hell did I get to New Orleans. I'm 38 years old, born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Moved out to Los Angeles to work in entertainment, which I did for 14 years.
I was a talent agent. Worked with artists and actors, everyone from Meg Ryan to 50 Cent and everything in between. So knowing all that, you're probably wondering, like I do myself , how the hell did I end up in New Orleans.
Well, I'll give you the short form version. I just basically fell out of love in that business. It just wasn't for me anymore. I've always loved cooking. All the women in my family were all great cooks. Checking my dough. They look beautiful. Oh, god, it looks so good.
I've always loved food. It was just always there. So after 14 years in entertainment, I said, [BLEEP] I'm starting my career all over again. We're going to do something a little extra special today. One of the musicians on the route, I'm going to bring him a cookie pizza because I like the color. See you in 25.
Since March 26, I have made and delivered personally about 3,000 pizzas, fed thousands of nurses, doctors, urgent cares, post offices, fire departments, musicians, just anyone who just needs a little relief right now and needs a little food. It's going to be a beautiful day.
- Hey, thank you, man.
LARRY GALPER: Yeah, they're really stepping up their game over there.
- Killer. That's beautiful, man.
- Thanks a lot.
LARRY GALPER: You're welcome.
It's what fuels me to keep going on, apart from the fact that I just love to make pizza.
It's not just about, like, oh, thanks, I was hungry, and I want to eat pizza. It's like, wow, you care. You want us to know that you care. And there have been times where I got in my car and, like, I had to slow down and be like, wow, that was deep.
No, I didn't think it would affect me this way-- a pizza. But it means more than that to a lot of these people, people that no one thinks that they're thinking about them.
LARRY GALPER: I know, right? I wish I could hug you.
- Oh, don't.
LARRY GALPER: Can't wait til we get back to normal times.
- I've been telling people.
LARRY GALPER: The passion that this city has for food-- it's so deeply embedded in the DNA of the city. And with that comes community, and feeding people, and service. I think you kind of have to have that innately to be someone who wants to live here and wants to serve this city.
People love it here. They protect it and they care about it. Evening time is when I prep for the next day, portion dough balls, and think of where the hell this is going. The next step is finding four walls to put it in, figuring out how to build a pizza business where love and community service is part of the original DNA.
This has the potential to not just be NOLA Love Pizza but to be Miami Love Pizza, Atlanta Love Pizza. I want to build a pizza brand that any city it goes into, it immediately embraces their city and partners with their city and finds the pockets that need love and just bring them into the huddle, bring them into a warm hug. And use pizza as that medium to do so.
This has been the experience of my life. This truly has given me the most purpose I've ever felt. And I feel like, unfortunately, it was spawned by a worldwide pandemic. But there are silver linings everywhere, and that's how I choose to see it.
I'll just leave you with two things-- spread cheese, not germs, and let love rule.
- NOLA. Love pizza round in New Orleans.
- NOLA Love Pizza.
- We love it.