Little-Known Billionaire's Job: Making Cheese for Our Pizza

You've probably never heard of James Leprino, the 'Willy Wonka of cheese'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2017 12:36 PM CDT
Meet the 'Willy Wonka of Cheese' for America's Pizzas
A James Leprino creation?   (Getty Images/Proformabooks)

You've likely never seen a photo of James Leprino, a 79-year-old reclusive billionaire in Colorado who runs Leprino Foods, a cheese and dairy manufacturing company. But that business is actually an empire—its website says it's the "world's largest producer of mozzarella"—and though Leprino himself may be a mystery to most, you've probably sampled his wares, with cheese that graces the tops of Pizza Hut, Papa John's, and Domino's pizzas, and lactose, whey, and other dairy products that show up in popular brands of frozen meals, yogurt, and baby formula consumed by millions, per Forbes. It's a feat that spurs the magazine to call him the "Willy Wonka of cheese," noting that this beast of a business had humble roots as a $615 enterprise in Denver's Little Italy, when Leprino was barely out of high school.

Thanks to Leprino's virtual monopoly on some of the biggest US pizza chains, his company brings in $3 billion in revenue each year and has a tight grip on up to 85% of the pizza cheese market. Not that everyone's a fan, however, with Forbes noting competitors sometimes put down his mozzarella by calling it "pizza cheese." But Leprino is more focused on profits than praise, and the company has never had a recall, his enormous profits allow him to invest in cutting-edge equipment, and he insists employees carry a card with the four company "watchwords": quality, service, price, ethics. Leprino remains low-key despite his fortune: There are no pics of him on the company site (he didn't even let Forbes get a photo) and he still operates forklifts at the factory. "My success is a fairy tale," he says. Read the full story. (Why mozzarella is the best pizza cheese.)

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