RACINE — Southeast Wisconsin lost one of its most prolific idea men earlier this week.
Randall "Lou" Larson — a popular bar-owner, bartender, home rehabber and Racine native — was 52 when he died Tuesday at his Lake Winnebago cottage after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
He had a distinctive look, his upper lip perpetually covered with a thick grey mustache that stretched wider than his face. That face was well known across southeast Wisconsin since Lou and his wife, Peggy, ran at least five different bars and eateries over the past 30 years: Peg & Lou’s Bar and Grill in Kenosha, and four Racine operations: Peg & Lou’s Junction Inn, Peg & Lou’s Hole In The Mall, Peg & Lou’s Bar and Grill, and Maxine’s.
“An entrepreneur extraordinaire, that was my husband,” said Peggy, Lou’s wife of 18 years. “My husband, he was always working. He was always looking for the next deal.”
Much life packed into 52 years
“Things could change on a moment’s notice,” Peggy said of Lou.
She called him “a jack of all trades, a master of none,” who always seemed to be one step ahead.
When he wasn’t working at one of the Peg & Lou’s locations, Lou was often researching or rehabbing historic homes, including one at 1110 Main St.
Lou kept up with local news, too, Peggy said.
She explained that every morning he would go to his computer and read the latest The Journal Times website, JournalTimes.com.
“He wanted to see what was going on in the city,” she said.
At Tavern League of Wisconsin conventions, the Racine County attendees (led by Lou) became known for sitting in the front row at every event. Almost always beside Lou would be good friend J.J. McAuliffe, the owner of the McAuliffe’s bars in Georgetown and Downtown Racine.
“This is a huge loss,” McAuliffe said. “I’ve had a lot of friends die over the years and you kind of get numb to it. I wasn’t numb to this.”
When McAuliffe received word that Lou had passed, he immediately walked to the nearest bar and ordered two Budweisers — one for himself, and one for his late friend. Budweiser was Lou’s favorite beverage, and he could even recite the paragraph of text on the bottom of every bottle from memory.
“He was a very charitable guy,” McAuliffe said. “A lot of people don’t know about that. He didn’t go bragging about it.”
Every year, McAuliffe said that Lou would raise money for various charities through the Splash and Dash polar plunge, as well as Bowl For Kids’ Sake supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters, sometimes collecting thousands of dollars a year.
“There’s probably a lot of stuff that even I don’t know about,” McAuliffe said. “He was the No. 1 guy for that stuff … if there were more people like Lou in the world, it would be a much better place.”
Lou’s altruism perhaps shone the most in his work as a member and, for 12 years, president of the City of Racine Tavern League. He enjoyed sharing wisdom and guidance with new bar owners.
“When we first met them, you never felt like you’d just met. It’s a sign of a good bartender or bar owner,” said Cassandra Egle, an owner of the Curve In Bar in Kewaskum, who met the Larsons through tavern conventions. “He was a true man of vision and very passionate about his ideas.”
One of the first people employed by the Larsons was Victor Fraser, a college student when he was hired to tend the Larsons’ first bar in Kenosha.
“He was a really creative, kind soul … he knew his craft incredibly well,” Fraser said. “He empowered his staff. One time he told me, ‘When you’re bartending, this is your bar.’
"Really not a lot of people in Racine would think to run five bars at one time, but he did,” Fraser added.
Even without Lou, this probably won’t be the end of Larson-owned bars in Racine.
The last Peg & Lou’s, 3113 Douglas Ave., closed at the end of June, but Peggy is in the process of opening a bar at the former Brass Monkey building, 1436 Junction Ave. She plans to call it Squirrely’s.
“I was retired for two months,” she laughed. Even without Lou, things are still changing for her.
A visitation for Lou is planned for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home, 803 Main St., Racine.
A funeral is to be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, at Gospel Lighthouse Church, 933 LaSalle Street, where Lou was a member.
A short visitation is to start at 10 a.m. Wednesday before the funeral at Gospel Lighthouse.