Charlie Valluzzo has gone from “Look for the Golden Arches" to “I'm lovin' it" during his almost 60 years with McDonald's.
The Valluzzo family brought the concept to Baton Rouge in the early 1960s and grew it from that original store on Plank Road to 75 restaurants in two states.
In April, Valluzzo and two of his sons, Patrick and Chris, sold their McDonald's restaurants to Lafayette-based franchise owners Chris and E.J. Krampe. Son John Valluzzo and his two sons, Nicholas and Michael continue to run Valluzzo Companies.
Now, Charlie Valluzzo is stepping back and taking some time to do some long put-off traveling with his wife, Nancy.
“I’m out,” Valluzzo said with a laugh. “Fifty-nine and a half years was enough. I need a little time to stop and smell the roses.”
But before Valluzzo can hit the road, he will be honored on July 11 for his impact on the local culinary scene with the Baton Rouge Epicurean Society’s 13th annual Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award.
The evening at the Renaissance Hotel will feature a six-course wine and food pairing dinner prepared by local chefs Jeremy Langlois, of Houmas House Plantation; Chris Motto, of Mansurs on the Boulevard; Danial Santana, of Bin 77; Lauren Silvernail, of Don Bergeron Enterprises; Scott Varnedoe, of Juban’s Restaurant; and Drue Vitter, of the Renaissance Hotel. The night gets underway at 6 p.m. with a cocktail party, followed at 7 p.m. with the award presentation, dinner and a live auction.
"We're honoring Charlie for his leadership and philanthropy," said BRES Board President Brian Dykes. "He has given so much back to the community, not only monetarily but through his volunteer works."
Born in Ohio and raised in Michigan, Valluzzo graduated from Western Michigan University in 1962. Looking for work, he joined his dad, Rocco “Doc” Valluzzo, in what would become the family business. Newly retired from his dental practice, Doc Valluzzo had applied for a franchise with the new McDonald's company. In 1961, he opened restaurants in Kenosha and Peoria, Illinois.
Charlie and Nancy Valluzzo headed to Joplin, Missouri, to open their first McDonald's. By 1964, the couple and their young family made their way to Baton Rouge.
“We were on the forefront of a new frontier,” Charlie Valluzzo said. “Before McDonald’s, there was no concept of fast food. People didn’t even know what fast food was. It was tough, tough at first. We had to create a market for what we were selling. ... I couldn’t even get a local bank to give me financing until our fifth store. They didn’t think we were going to make it.”
Valluzzo said he "didn’t like the segregation we experienced when we got here, but I counted the church steeples and knew this was where we wanted to be."
He said he had two goals — "give back to my employees and give back to the community. To fulfill that obligation, we built our first store on Plank Road near the old Redemptorist High School.”
In the beginning, McDonald’s only offered 15-cent hamburgers, 17-cent cheeseburgers and 12-cent fries. Milkshakes were a whopping 99 cents.
“We sold them by the bags full,” said Valluzzo. “It was a penny-by-penny business. I told my employees those pennies were our dollars. ... I pinch myself that they stuck with us as long as they did. It was good that it worked out.”
Valluzzo was soon a star in the McDonald’s franchise world as well as in the Baton Rouge community.
In 1984, he received the company’s Golden Arch Award, the highest recognition given in the McDonald’s system, with only four awarded every two years. In 1978, 1982 and 2001, he received the Ronald McDonald Marketing Award for marketing excellence. He also served as chairman of the McDonald’s National Advertising Committee in 1985 and 1986, and he served on that committee’s administrative council from 1972 to 1992.
Closer to home, Valluzzo was making history when the Louisiana Restaurant Association named him Restaurateur of the Year in 1991 — the first time the award was given to someone in the fast-food industry. That same year, he was won the Philanthropist of the Year from the National Association of Fundraising Professionals, which also honored him in 2001 with its Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist Award. He also received the Sales & Marketing Executives International of Greater Baton Rouge Marketer of the Year Award in 1986.
In 1993, Valluzzo and McDonald’s of Baton Rouge received the Capital Area Red Cross’ Caring Award, recognizing humanitarian service. The following year, he received the Bishop Sullivan (now St. Michael) High School Sword Award.
1995 was a big year for Valluzzo. He received Baton Rouge’s most prestigious honor for community service, the Golden Deeds Award, given by The Advocate and Inter-Civic Council of Greater Baton Rouge, where presenters said he was involved in more than 50 community events. He also was given the Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities McTLC Award, the highest honor Ronald McDonald’s Charities bestows on a McDonald’s owner/operator.
Valluzzo has been honored as a volunteer activist and inducted into the Special Olympics Louisiana Hall of Fame, the Catholic High School Hall of Fame and the Baton Rouge Business Hall of Fame.
Other honors have come from the Safety Council of the Louisiana Capital Area, Knights of Columbus, YMCA and the Salvation Army. In May, he and his wife were presented the St. Joseph Cathedral’s Community Award.
Valluzzo also helped establish Charlie's Place Activity and Respite Center, a program of Alzheimer Services of the Capital Area. The facility is named for three Charlies — Valluzzo, Charlie Lamar and the late Charlie Spera — whose financial contributions and leadership were instrumental in its creation. Valluzzo is still a board member for Alzheimer’s Services, and also serves on the boards of Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, the Wilbur Marvin Foundation and Commercial Properties Realty Trust.
Other entities benefiting from his leadership and generosity include the Academic Distinction Fund, Keep America Beautiful, Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Boy Scouts of America, Senior Olympics, Safety Council of the Louisiana Capital Area, Consumer Credit Counseling, Diabetes Association of Baton Rouge, Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Seminar, Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Junior League of Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge Epicurean Society’s
Grace 'Mama' Marino
Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner
honoring Charlie Valluzzo
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 11. Cocktails start at 6 p.m.
WHERE: Renaissance Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd.