King Expands Into Food Service Something on Every Burner - Jan 12, 1985 - Omaha World-Herald
Jan 12, 1985 King Expands Into Food Service Something on Every Burner; [BULLDOG Edition] Robert McMorris. Omaha World - Herald. Omaha, Neb. pg. 1
Full Text (1407 words)
(Copyright 1985 Omaha World-Herald Company)
King . . . in a rare tranquil moment at home.
""I love to have a lot of things going at once,'' said Lawrence E. King Jr.
These days he has reason to love every minute.
Larry King, 40, is best known as the miracle worker who helped save the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union in Omaha.
He assumed management of the credit union when similar low-income, community-based enterprises were foundering at the rate of 25 a month.
Franklin, too, was on the brink of collapse and had received an ultimatum from regulatory officials. But today it is one of just a dozen such institutions still in existence in the country.
It lists deposits of $2.5 million. In spring it will move into a new building at 33rd and Decatur Street that will triple its original working space.
The turnaround has received national attention.
More to Come
However, King watchers apparently haven't seen anything yet. Although he is still the credit union's manager-treasurer, he is fast emerging as a food service entrepreneur.
He has operated a catering business for several years. Then last month he went into the restaurant business, assuming management of food and beverage service at Cleopatra's, a new supper club featuring name entertainment.
King is a partner in the Akasaka sushi bar, which opened this week at the ParkFair in downtown Omaha.
In anticipation of a spring opening, construction is continuing on Mr. King's, a ParkFair restaurant of which King will be the majority owner. He said his menu will offer Oriental and European cuisine.
""I want it to be an elegant place,'' he said. ""Waiters will wear white dinner jackets.''
King said he also was considering other business opportunities, including a catering operation in Washington, D.C.
He sees himself ""going on and on,'' launching even more enterprises.
Sang for President
Meanwhile, King is active in Republican politics. A talented singer of arias and show tunes who once considered a career in music, he sang the national anthem at the party's national convention in Dallas last summer.
An alternate delegate to the convention from Nebraska, King raised the funds for a much-publicized pre-convention party given by black Republicans at South Fork, home base of the television show "Dallas.''
King also is on the planning committee for the National Black Republicans' Celebrity Gala, which will take place Jan. 19 in Washington before the inauguration of President Reagan.
There's a possibility that King may sing at one of the other functions during the inaugural weekend. ""They've talked to me about it,'' he said, ""but it's not definite. I'm not necessarily expecting to be asked, because Reagan has a lot of dues to pay.''
King, a baritone, has sung at dinners honoring both Reagan and Vice President George Bush.
King is a former Democrat who was once chairman of the Black Democrats of Nebraska.
He switched parties five years ago.
""To me it's very logical,'' he said. ""If every black is a Democrat, they can easily take us for granted. We've got to be on both sides of the bargaining table.
""I believe very much in the "hand up' philosophy rather than "hand out.' ''
King alternates his office hours at the credit union with breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings.
Evenings often find him at Cleopatra's, which is managed by his father, Lawrence E. King Sr., a retired supervisor for Swift & Co. and a former laundry operator, caterer and restaurant manager.
Larry Jr. is ""always'' at Cleopatra's Saturday nights, playing the role of genial host, he said.
His wife, Alice, is associated with him in the various business enterprises as bookkeeper.
King said the many hats he wears present no problem because ""I make sure I have very good people helping me. I don't have to "be there' to know things are being run well.
""I once started a lawn service to fill in during the summer months when catering business fell off. I hired people to do the work, but I was spending a lot of my own time taking care of complaints. That taught me you have to hire good people to see that things are done right.''
What makes Larry King run?
"I was just never the kind of guy to come home, take off my shoes, eat dinner and watch TV,'' he said.
"I guess I grew up with my father's philosophy. He told us to never be idle. He always had a lot of things going. We were all involved. When he was in catering, my sisters and I would clean the shrimp. I just knew I was going to have to work when I grew up. It was ingrained into us.''
At 14 he began working at the Blackstone Hotel. ""I carried ice, took care of garbage,'' he said. At 16 he became a busboy and, a week later, a waiter. He subsequently served diners at the Blackstone's famous Orleans Room.
He nursed his singing ambitions in Central High School musical productions. ""As a black,'' he said, ""I generally played the grandfather. Once I played God.''
King took voice lessons with Mildred Slocum and also studied music under John Miller at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
But business administration was his major field of study at UNO. Later, while in the Air Force, he completed requirements for a bachelor's degree by attending night classes at Kellogg University in Battle Creek, Mich.
"I always had a feeling that God put me on earth for a special purpose,'' King said. "For a time I thought my purpose was to sing.''
He gave up that idea after a conversation with his father: "My dad told me that a lot of singers starve to death.''
After returning from the service, King got a job in the management training program of the First National Bank. He accepted the challenge at the credit union at age 25.
"I once thought of becoming a Presbyterian minister,'' he said. ""I think I had some qualities that would have helped me in the ministry. I wanted to serve people, and I enjoyed raising funds. But the credit union also lets me serve people, and in more varied ways.''
Since 1980, he said, the credit union has made 520 home rehabilitation loans. The organization also provides counseling for people who seek advice about mortgages, leasing arrangements and utility bills.
""We've had a lot of help from a lot of people to make things work,'' King said. He expressed doubt that he would ever sever his connections with the credit union ""entirely,'' despite his greater involvement in business.
The credit union "is my soul,'' he said. ""It's possible that before too long I'll be doing a lot of the things I'm doing now, but at a dollar a year.''
Change of Image
Not long after coming to Franklin, King said, he had a revealing chat with a 10-year-old boy: ""I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, "If you think I want to be the manager of a credit union, you're crazy.' ''
King said he learned the boy's role models were people who sported expensive suits and cars. In the boy's eyes, King suffered by comparison. "The kid was more impressed with street people,'' King said. "That taught me a lesson. I had to improve my image.''
Today King has a more impressive wardrobe. He drives a Mercedes. He and his wife and their 4-year-old son, Lawrence E. King III, live north of Omaha in the Ponca Hills on a heavily wooded 26-acre plot that is watched over by two black great Danes named Bertie and Ernie.
The house, of contemporary design, offers a commanding view of the Missouri River to the east. Windows on several levels to the west look out on a ravine that is home to deer, raccoons and other wildlife.
"It's wonderful to live with nature,'' said King. "This is how I relax.''
King often indulges in one of his favorite freetime activities, cooking.
"I love to cook and I love to eat, as you can guess by looking at me,'' he said, patting his rather ample midsection.
"I love to entertain and cook for guests.''
He said his favorite entertainment time is Sunday afternoon "after church.'' He is an elder in Calvin Presbyterian Church and a member of the Missouri River Valley Presbytery.
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