Question: Name the fourth-generation Washingtonian who says he is a former Duncan national yo-yo champion, a former national liquor salesman of the year, a former professional magician known as "Ooser the Great," the inventor of wheels on luggage and the owner of a growing Wisconsin Avenue business named after his brother that will sell millions of dollars of pizza this year?
Answer: "Big Lew" Newmyer, owner of Armand's Chicago Pizzeria.
While it is not unusual for successful entrepreneurs to be optimistic and energetic, the 63-year-old Newmyer may have set a new standard last week.
"If I were on a plane and the plane crashed, I'd be the only survivor," he said. "I don't think anything is going to kill me. I'm gonna live 'til I'm 94. That's the way I've always thought, and I still feel that way. I don't jog. I play a little golf and run up and down the steps, stuff like that. But I have fun."
One of the reasons Newmyer is having fun these days is that his recent decision to open a second Wisconsin Avenue Armand's, specializing in deep-dish-pizza delivery, already is paying off. Besides delivering lots of single pies, Newmyer is targeting the pizza catering business by contacting convention organizers, tour bus companies and offices throughout the area. He says no one else in the Washington area is going after the "Ridgewell's of pizza catering market," referring to the well-known Washington-area caterer. Newmyer has six new delivery trucks, each of which can keep 40 pizzas hot for an hour and a half, and a new 10-by-14-foot oven that can cook 400 pizzas an hour.
Newmyer opened the original Armand's Pizzeria on Wisconsin Avenue in 1974 after a trip to downtown Chicago, where he "discovered" deep-dish pizza. Although he originally considered opening a pizzeria in Chicago that served pizza with a thin crust, Newmyer ultimately decided instead to try to bring deep-dish pizza to Washington.
He owned several Armand's Submarine Sandwich Shops at the time, but sold those so he could concentrate on what he believed was a more lucrative opportunity. Newmyer said it is easier to make a profit selling pizzas than it is selling sandwiches because the food costs are significantly lower.
Newmyer worked on his pizza recipe for almost a year before opening Armand's. He developed the recipe after flying in pies from Chicago to taste, digging through garbage in Chicago to learn which ingredients successful pizzerias used, and deciding that no matter what, he was going to use fresh products. A recipe for deep-dish pizza published in an industry magazine also was helpful, he said.
"It was monkey see, monkey do better," Newmyer said.
Unlike some small-business owners who have mastered all the basics of business, Newmyer readily admits that his talents are in marketing and innovation. He loves to create and to promote, while delegating the rest.
"I can't run an adding machine to this day," Newmyer said. "But you can hire those guys. I can't even read a financial statement. I can read the numbers, but I can't interpret them. I'm not a pencil man. You can hire those guys, but you can't hire the ones who are original and create and see concepts."
Newmyer decided to open the second Armand's after seeing lines night after night at his original location. Some of his friends warned him not to open the second store nearby because they were afraid he would merely steal sales from his original store, but he claims that has not happened. The original Armand's, with seating capacity of about 90 and 20 percent of its sales in take-out, has continued to sell pizzas at the same rate, so that the sales in the new shop, which has no seating and is strictly take-out and delivery, completely contribute to growth, he said.
Over the years, Newmyer has been involved in a lot of different businesses and had a lot of different hobbies. One of his favorite toys has been his yo-yo, which he took out of his pocket and began to toss during an interview last week. He was Duncan national champ back in the 1940s. A 1941 Washington Times-Herald newspaper article said: "Lewis Newmyer, Western High School senior, has become a man to be reckoned with in professional yo-yo tossing circles."
About two years ago, Newmyer and other yo-yo masters got invitations to perform in Lincoln Center in New York. Newmyer's performance unfortunately ended in a New York hospital, as he explained: "Two years ago, they had this thing up in Lincoln Center. There were 1,500 kids there and television crews from all over the world. They had all the old yo-yo players there, and we got to Lincoln Center at 10:00 in the morning. There were guys on stilts and unicycles doing yo-yo gimmicks.
"They had a program which started around noon. I go up on stage, and my specialty was pocket tricks. My grand finale was that I throw the yo-yo and it goes up 40 feet in the air, and then I catch it in my inside pocket. I forgot I was on the stage, and I went running and fell off the stage and fell on my head. I lost vision in my eye and was completely knocked out. I was in the hospital for two days. I had a busted rib from a yo-yo, a fractured hand, an eye all black and blue, my nose over here, and a tooth knocked loose. My vision came back a couple of days later. I told Duncan I was sorry I messed up their program like that. I told them I usually work with a net.
"The doctors came in to see me in the hospital. I said, 'Well, I was standing around playing with my yo-yo, and I fell off the stage.' They wanted to send me to the mental ward."
After failing to get into medical school and leaving law school early, Newmyer started in business "around 1950" by working in a liquor store and then joining Washington liquor wholesaler Milton Kronheim as a salesman. While attending law school, he won second prize in a national magic trick contest, according to a June 21, 1951, article in The Richmond News Leader, when he stopped a baby from crying by blowing up a balloon with his fingers. Ooser the Great "would not divulge the secret of mystic inflation," the article said.
After only a few years in the liquor business, Newmyer received an award as the top liquor salesman in the nation in 1955, an award he says he earned because his creative mind enabled him to help retailers with their merchandising. For example, he designed and patented the "Selecta-Sell," a push-button electric wine merchandising machine with rotating shelves.
Newmyer said that was not his family's first patent. His grandmother, who he says designed dresses for the Ziegfeld Follies, designed and patented hangers with slits for dresses with shoulder straps in 1930. He says he designed and patented wheels on luggage in 1943 after getting tired of carrying his bags through Union Station. But the family made no money on any of those inventions because they didn't know how to market them. "I didn't know how to promote," he said. "I know how to promote the pizza now."
Newmyer is not only promoting his pizza these days, but he also is trying to expand by promoting franchises. There is an Armand's franchise in Alexandria's Old Town, and there are three in Baltimore. He hopes to build a national chain by opening new franchises and converting existing pizzerias to the Armand's name and system. He dreams of opening as many as 30 Armand's pizzerias around the Beltway, but Newmyer has a long way to go if he wants to catch up with Domino's Pizza, the world's largest and fastest-growing pizza delivery chain. Domino's has more than 2,200 stores in the United States, Canada and Australia, and had sales last year of $626 million. Domino's opened more than 700 new units last year and wants to open 1,000 new outlets this year.
"Big Lew" said he designed the "little man who moves" on top of the Armand's pizza delivery trucks. He also designed and built a system at his new location in which miniature Armand's trucks travel along a small conveyor belt carrying pizza orders taken by telephone operators to a dispatcher who works inside a small room with an electric map of the two-mile radius delivery area on the wall. The dispatcher communicates with the six Armand's trucks by radio, notifying the correct truck of the latest order after pushing a button on the wall that triggers a light indicating where the delivery is and which truck to contact.
Although he has not yet made one, Newmyer already has six-foot pizza boxes in stock, in anticipation of a future promotion. But first, he plans to introduce a two-foot pizza called "Armand's Awesome," which his trucks can deliver to parties.
Newmyer competes with Pat and Chris Kefalas' Maggie's Pizzeria at both of his locations. The original Maggie's, next door to the original Armand's, is in a Wisconsin Avenue location that has been its home since the 1940s, although it has not always been a pizzeria. The new Wisconsin Avenue Maggie's, the second location, began delivering pizza "within a day" of when the new Armand's began delivering, Pat Kafalas said.
"There seems to be enough business for everybody," Pat Kafalas said. "We have New York-style pizza and theirs is Chicago-style thick crust. We're busy, and they're busy." Kafalas said "it was a coincidence" that the two started delivering pizza within days of each other.
Newmyer, the son of Washington trial lawyer Alvin L. Newmyer, was named for his grandfather, who owned the Marble Saloon. Newmyer said his grandfather's saloon, which closed its doors on April 6, 1896, was located where the original FBI Building was on Pennsylvania Avenue between Ninth and Tenth streets, and was the first private marble building in Washington.
After gazing out an open window at traffic passing by on Wisconsin Avenue and admitting that "my mind has been thinking about other things while I've been talking to you," Newmyer said he bought a home in Florida several years ago and was considering retirement. But he missed the business world and decided to return to Washington to concentrate on expanding Armand's. As for other future ventures, Newmyer said:
"I'd like to own a ball team. I tried out for the N.Y. Giants when I was a kid. I lasted four days in a five-day tryout camp. Good field, good arm, but I couldn't hit a curve ball. If Cooke Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke doesn't bring back baseball, I'm gonna bring it back. He's got the money. I'd love to sit in the dugout. Then I'd retire."