What’s the winning secret for surviving more than 30 years as an inner-city business owner? Ask Gary Wilson, and he might tell you how his Wilson’s Pizza has survived while other businesses have fallen by the wayside. It’s a story of survival a commitment to the community that has earned Wilson the UG Black History Committee’s 2017 Business Leadership Award.

More than 30 years ago, things were a little different along 5th and Parallel where Russel Wilson, a retired firefighter from KCK, opened Wilson’s Groceries. In spite of unemployment, drugs and increasing crime, there was still a since of community and a support of the area businesses.

Wilson was doing well, selling groceries and hamburgers to the community. So well, that he opened another store in 1989 later at 1848 Quindaro. A year later, Wilson turned the new grocery store over to his son, Gary. This was a turning point for the younger Wilson, and an opportunity he has cherished to this day. It was in this new location where he started selling pizzas.

Gary says that pizza gave him a competitive edge. For next 20 years when other pizza chains would not deliver to the neighborhood, Wilson’s Pizza and Grill filled that void, providing some of the best tasting pizza in the city.

Obviously meeting a community need has been a key to Wilson’s survival, but if you ask him how he’s been able to stay in business so long, he says you have to be true to your community, treat customers well, and try to have reasonable prices.

“I can remember when I was a kid and buying candy or going to McDonalds and getting a free Big Mac. They had specials buy one and get one free. I always had aspirations of doing that same kind of thing when I became a business owner,” says Gary. “It’s a way to give back to our community.”

He also says emphatically that you have to “give first count on your money” as much as possible. What does that mean? He says work your business as much as you can so you know what’s going on.

When asked what’s been one of the most challenging things he’s faced as a minority owned business?

“Getting people to recognize you are a legitimate business and your product is just as good as anywhere else they go,” Gary exclaims. “Some people think what we have in our community is not good enough for them and they go out and spend those same dollars somewhere else when they have what they need right here.” 

Gary works hard every day with his children coming in to help him occasionally. He enjoys working with the youth and sponsors sporting events for the community. In 2015, he received the Trail Blazer Award. A 1980 graduate of Washington High School. He is a “Dotte” to the core and believes to this day that he can still make a difference on Quindaro.

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