2013 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"In God's eyes we're all measured according to how we share our success, whether it is in terms of wealth or in terms of our devotion, care, and time. Regardless of how we choose to share what we are fortunate enough to have, we're all equal in the spirit of helping others in need."
Larry Ruvo was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, in 1946. His father had recently returned from the military and married Larry’s mother, who was from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. When Larry’s birth was imminent, his parents moved in with Larry’s mother’s family to save money. As a result, he was born in Canada, but when he was three months old, his parents moved out on their own to Niagara Falls, New York. “My father had lived there all his life,” says Larry. “He had a limousine service that gave guided tours around the falls. But Dad felt there were few economic opportunities there, and he wanted to move us to the West.”
In 1955, Larry's family moved to Las Vegas, where they lived for some time with his aunt and uncle. Larry’s father got a job in a casino and Larry’s uncle worked as a bartender. One day, Larry’s father came home and announced that he and his brother-in-law had rented a building. They wanted to open an Italian restaurant. “I remember that day like it was yesterday,” says Larry. “My mother looked at my dad and said, ‘what?’ My father and uncle wanted to go into business for themselves, and they knew everyone liked their wives’ cooking. It was that simple. No big plan. No big dream. Two days later, we were all down scraping floors, sanding, and painting. About a month later, we opened. That was the start of a 43-year run as one of Las Vegas’ oldest, continually run restaurants.”
Larry worked in the small restaurant from the beginning. He grated cheese, washed pots and pans, scooped ice cream, and anything else an eight-year-old could handle. By the time he was 14, he thought he knew everything there was to running a restaurant. But when he actually tried to fire the chef, his father let him know he had overstepped his position. Larry recalls that his father made him hire the chef back. “My dad made me apologize to the chef and told him he still had his job. My father then told the chef that not only was he rehired, he was being promoted to general manager and his first task was to fire me! I never worked for my dad again.”
There were no hard feelings over Larry’s firing. He had deep affection and respect for his father. “My dad was my best friend,” he says. “He was never judgmental. He never told me what I wanted to hear, only what I needed to hear. He didn’t placate, me and he didn’t try to guide me. He gave me the freedom to make my own decisions, which was very important in helping me to find my own way when I was older.”
Larry was an only child, and his mother doted on him. She enjoyed caring for her family, and Larry fondly remembers big family dinners. His mother always sent guests home with cartons of food. The Ruvos lived in a small, two-bedroom home. Larry often listened to his parents talk in the kitchen after he had gone to bed. One night, his mother was trying to convince his father that they needed to contribute to the building fund for their church. Larry’s father pointed out that they didn’t have enough money to make the house payment and didn’t see how they could make a pledge to the church. “I listened to my parents,” Larry recalls, “and my mother said to my father, ‘Don’t worry, Louis, God will take care of us.’ That ended their conversation. They made their pledge, and to this day their names are on the plaque that honors those who helped to build St. Anne’s in Las Vegas. I think that my thoughts on philanthropy and the importance of giving to make a difference in the lives of others stems from that conversation my parents had when I was young. My parents steered me more by their actions than with advice.”
After Larry ended his job at his father’s restaurant, he got a job at the Sahara hotel, where he worked throughout high school. Larry liked school and dreamed of being an architect. There was always construction going on in Las Vegas, and he thought it would be interesting to go in that direction, but there was no money for a university education. A number of his friends were going to Orange Coast College, a two-year school in Southern California, and Larry decided to go with them.
He enrolled in school and got a job at a department store, but two months later he quit so that he and a friend could rent space for a pizza restaurant at the beach. They opened in April and met with immediate success. Throughout the summer months, the restaurant did well. When winter came, however, their business dropped off markedly. “I learned quickly how to budget and what the word seasonal business meant,” says Larry. “We weathered the storm and wound up with a profit. I think that experience gave me my entrepreneurial spirit.”
Larry earned his associate’s degree and then returned to Las Vegas. He worked on the front desk at Caesar’s Palace for a while and was then hired as the night manager of the New Frontier Hotel and Casino. Shortly thereafter, he accepted a job as the general manager of the Playboy Club in Hollywood. Eighteen months later, a friend from Las Vegas, Steve Wynn, visited him and lured him back to Las Vegas with a proposal for a new business.
Larry established a liquor distribution company, Best Brands, with Steve Wynn in 1970. Two years later, Steve Wynn (a Horatio Alger Member from class of 2009) wanted to return to the casino business and was planning to buy the Golden Nugget. Larry stayed with the liquor company and became a partner with Harvey Chaplin. Together, they formed Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada. Larry has served as the company’s senior managing director ever since. He has guided the business to become Nevada’s largest wholesale liquor, wine, and beer importer and distributor.
Larry Ruvo has reached the summit of success in his business, but when asked what success is for him, he says, “I believe that in God’s eyes we are all measured according to how we share our success, whether it is in terms of wealth, devotion, care, or time. We are all equal in the spirit of helping others in need.”
Honored by his Horatio Alger Award, Larry says that he is especially interested in the Horatio Alger scholarship program. “I believe the root of all evil is not money, it’s lack of education,” says Larry. “I started a foundation for academically talented, financially dependent children because I believe education transforms lives.”
Mr. Ruvo is a board member of the American Gaming Association. He is well known in the Las Vegas community for his longtime support of numerous charitable organizations, many of which benefit education and children. Larry has also been the recipient of numerous honors. On several occasions, he was honored by the United States Congress. In November 1998, he was knighted into the Order of Saint John Knights of Malta. He was recognized as Man of the Year by MDA and received the 1999 Community Leadership Award from the Points of Light Foundation. In addition, he received Man of the Year awards from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the Food & Beverage Directors Association, and numerous other charitable organizations. Larry received the UNLV President’s Medal and is listed as one of the most Influential Businessmen of Southern Nevada for the years 2004 and 2009 and was also included as one of the Vegas Dozen in 2005. Larry was inducted into the 2005 Gaming Hall of Fame and honored by the Public Education Foundation with the Education Hero Award for 2005. In July 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Larry to serve as a member of the prestigious Advisory Committee to the Arts at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was presented the Governor’s Philanthropist of the Year Award. In 2007, the Las Vegas Review Journal named Larry Ruvo “Most Favorite Male in Las Vegas.” In 2008, Larry was asked to serve as the Nevada co-chair for the George W. Bush Presidential Center and continues to work on this historic project. In 2009, he was named Distinguished Nevadan by UNLV and was honored with the Woodrow Wilson Award in 2009. Larry was also asked to join the Board of Trustees of the esteemed Cleveland Clinic in 2009. Larry received the Angel Awards 2010 Humanitarian of the Year from In Business. Most recently, Larry was inducted into the Nevada Business Hall of Fame.