By Alec Johnson
A local event services company is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
Ritz Charles, owned by Chuck Lazzara and his wife, Lynn, opened in 1985 and hosts weddings, corporate outings and social events such as bar mitzvahs, retirement and anniversary celebrations. It is also one of three exclusive caterers for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is the exclusive caterer for the Indianapolis Public Library, the Indianapolis Artsgarden and Coxhall Gardens.
The Ritz Charles idea started in the late 1970’s when Lazzara was a real estate agent for F.C. Tucker Co. He had been to many weddings in his 20s, and had seen how nice the facilities that hosted them were. Yet when it came to Indianapolis’ suburbs, there was no such facility.
After doing some market research and spending some money, Lazzara concluded that it was time to take the plunge and make his idea happen.
“I was on this slide, basically, this mental slide, and I was like (to my wife) ‘You know, I’ve spent $80,000, it’s our life savings, on this venture and I can’t get back up the slide. We either have to go and risk it all’, and that’s what we did,” Lazzara said.
The idea was met with skepticism from people in the community and from people at the banks for financing who said 95 percent of restaurants fail, to even the then-mayor of Carmel at the time, Jane Reiman, who said the idea would never work in the area.
Lazzara didn’t give up, however.
After being rejected by local banks, he convinced some bank representatives from First Merchants Bank to ride up with him to Chicago in 1983 to check out banquet facilities there. That convinced them to loan Lazzara the $1.5 million needed to build his new facility, ultimately opening on June 1, 1985. Since then, they have earned awards such as being named one of Indiana’s Top 10 Business Stories of 1993, and the Applause (Business of the Year) Award from the Carmel Chamber of Commerce in 2010.
Dave Coots, founder of Coots, Henke and Wheeler, says that Lazzara is “the consummate businessman” and knows how to treat his customers fairly. He also praised Lazzara for how he and fellow lawyers were treated during the Indiana State Bar Association’s two-day legal continuing education event, saying Lazzara made them feel like they were the only ones there.
“He sees opportunity and isn’t hesitant to take advantage of it,” Coots said. “I’ve always found him to be a fair person in his assessment of how people want to be treated.”
That ambition and fair treatment of customers has allowed Lazzara to expand his business to host corporate events for groups like the ISBA, the Chamber of Commerce, and even a Dallas area business’ cattle show. He also set up a branch in Kansas City in 2000, and his brother-in-law, Bill Frye, runs it today. Along with that came additions to the Meridian Street facility in 1989, and most recently, in 2013.
Lazzara credits his success to his basic business philosophy, learning from experience, his mentors, brother Tom Lazzara and George Sweet, along with Steve Hilbert, who used to own Conseco and hired Lazzara to host events.
“Provide really good food, really good services and really good amenities at a price that’s hard to beat,” Lazzara said, part of his philosophy.