Do-Gooders Pizza’s name is more than just a catchy phrase designed to draw customers into the new restaurant on Vandiver Drive in Lincolnton.
It’s a reflection of the character of owner Billy Leonard and his path from a 10-month prison sentence to work with local charities to becoming a business owner.
Leonard, who grew up in Greenville, was convinced by his mother, Wanda Leonard, to relocate to the western end of the state.
“My mom moved up here in 2003 and suggested I (relocate too),” Leonard explained. “I was going to move to Puerto Rico to work as a resort chef. So, I told her that if I could get a job here in four days, I’d move. I ended up getting a job and a place to live in two days.”
While living in Hickory, Leonard worked as a dietary manager at a nursing home, and in 2008, he moved to Lincoln County. Although he excelled at his work, his drinking after-hours became a problem.
“I’d go to the bar after work, drink and then get pulled over,” Leonard said. “I’m a firm believer (that) God gives everyone a second chance. You’ve got to make the most of it.”
After finishing a 10-month prison sentence in 2012, Leonard and his mother spent their free time volunteering for non-profit organizations and charities in Lincolnton, such as Hesed House of Hope, Christian Ministry of Lincoln County and Amy’s House.
It was during a conversation with Christian Ministry Executive Director Susan Brymer that Leonard came up with the Do-Gooders name. As an active volunteer, Leonard could see how his charitable work benefited the community.
Do-Gooders Pizza welcomed customers on Aug. 31 at their 144 Vandiver Drive
location in Lincolnton, the former Pizza Hotline restaurant.
Leonard opted to open his restaurant at the former pizzeria due to the building’s established reputation.
“The place had been a pizza restaurant for 35 years,” Leonard said.
Leonard’s culinary profession is thanks, in large part, to his familial roots. The only child in the house, he spent most of his days in the kitchen with his family.
“I started cooking when I was five,” he said. “I made banana pudding…I remember standing on a chair, stirring the pot on the stove. Instead of watching cartoons, I grew up watching cooking shows like Julia Child’s.”
Leonard soon progressed to biscuit making, a skill he later utilized while working during his teenage years at a Bojangles. After graduating from high school in 1992, Leonard went on to work as a mechanic at a Cadillac dealership.
Over the next several years, Leonard remained in the automotive industry, with the exception of an eight-month stint in 1998 as a carnival ride operator and mechanic.
“People say ‘live life,’ but they haven’t really lived it,” Leonard said. “Living life is not sitting on the couch watching T.V. Sometimes, you have to do something that’s wild, fun and crazy.”
While Leonard enjoyed his work as a mechanic, he longed to return to the culinary arts. In 2001, he decided to enroll as a culinary student at Lenoir Community College in Kinston. While working toward his degree, he traded his tool belt in for a cooking apron.
“I went from turning wrenches one Friday to working as a (culinary) apprentice part-time for $6.50 an hour that Saturday,” Leonard said.
Leonard spent the next year and a half as an apprentice at the New Bern Golf and Country Club, working his way up the culinary hierarchy from dishwasher to line chef. By mid-2002, Leonard had already changed jobs, accepting a position as the executive banquet chef for a nearby Sheraton Hotel. There, he continued to expand his knowledge of fine-dining cuisine.
He recently worked in the Lincoln Country Club restaurant.
While Leonard enjoyed returning to his fine dining roots in Lincolnton, he felt compelled to open a low-cost dining option to the community.
“People deserve to go out and having something to eat…to have options to choose from,” he said. “We’re family based, family oriented and family owned.”