Julius Caesar famously said “When you’re in Rome, act like the Romans”.  I love this quote, and I feel that when I am in America, I should act like an American.  This mentality has provided me great success throughout the years and allowed me to attain the life I have today.  

I was born in a suburb of Budapest, Hungary.  My house had dirt floors and no running water.  We got our first lightbulb when I was 16 years old.   There was a church down the road from my house that had a ping pong table in its basement.  I loved the sport, and it was the most popular sport in my country.  It was popular in third world countries because the equipment was inexpensive.  At 16 I became the boys champion. At 18 I became a junior champion.  After that, I was a top-ranked player.  I became nationally ranked in Hungary, which was home to the best ping pong players in the world.  

I came to the United States in 1956.  The first few years were difficult, and I had a hard time adjusting to Ohio.  Even though Hungary is smaller and less populated than Ohio, Budapest was a far more cosmopolitan city.  When I came to the United States, I worked in a factory.  I started to play ping pong at a recreational center and people began to notice my skills.  I began to play competitively to a wide degree of success.  In 1957 I became the Ohio Table Tennis Champion.  By 1958 and 1958 I was the national Champion of ping pong in Toronto, Canada. I won the Eastern Table Tennis Championship, and in 1960 I became the US Singles and Doubles US Champion of Table Tennis.  I also became Canada’s Singles and Doubles Champion in Toronto as well.  After my 1960 championship, I began to receive offers to partake in an exhibition.  

Around this time, President Kennedy made physical fitness a priority for young Americans.  I was approached by the University of Minnesota, who hired me to put on exposes in high schools and universities in 15 different states.  I was thrilled by this opportunity, and my salary increased considerable! I did this for a couple of years.  After this, the University of Kansas offered me a similar position, which I took as well.  However, I was required to speak for eight minutes as part of the program.  I didn’t speak any English at the time, and had no idea how I was going to fill this gap.  William Tamko, a principal of and Eastside high school, approached me and offered to write a speech that I would memorize.  I was able to recite the words, even if I didn’t know what they meant.  For three years, I made speeches to thousands of people without any idea what I was saying.  Over these three years, I appeared on national television 48 times, including The Tonight Show, The Michael Douglas Show, and Steve Allen’s Show. 

In 1963 I became tired of traveling and staying in different hotels.  I wanted to have my own business.  I went to downtown Cleveland.  As a former national champion of ping pong, I had a great opportunity to make a name for myself.   I rented out my own space and hosted a large grand-opening event.  I invited the 1936 Olympic fencing champion and my friend, the South American ping pong champion and put on an exhibition.  The exhibition was promoted in the Plain Dealer and all three TV channels.  The newspapers put my event on the front page of their papers.  The event was a huge success!  However, after this, the business was horrible.  The only way I could keep the business open was to give ping pong lesson for $15 an hour at a time when the minimum wage was $1.  I hardly made any money from the club because of the exorbitant rent I was paying for the property.  Someone suggested that I add pool tables to my club.  I followed this advice and found that pool was far more popular than ping pong.  In 1963, when my lease was up, I opened a new billiards club that had a few ping pong tables in it.  The club was very successful, and I had about 350 patrons visiting my shop a day. 

At this location I hosted a tournament in 1971.   I had to get creative about how I would get people in my doors.  I hosted a tournament where people could play for free and the profits would go to charity.  This tournament was advertised in the Plain Dealer for months before the event was to take place.  People would come to my club and pay full price to practice for months before the tournament.  The event was a huge success, and turned out to be the 4th largest billiards tournament ever.

Eventually, however, many billiards clubs began to close, including those that belonged to some of the best pool players.  I was a good pool player, but not great.  It would never be the career for me that ping pong had been.  I realized that other players were neglecting their businesses to focus on their pool came.  At that moment, I put down my pool cue and focused all of my attention to running my business. 

I set up a small shop in pool room and started to sell pool tables and equipment.  Unlike other companies, I set up my pool tables so that customers could play on them and get a feel for what they would be like in their homes.  Pool tables were then taken directly from the warehouse to the customers’ homes.  I sold hundreds of tables in this way. 

I advertised my company in every way I could think of.  I left business cards everywhere I went.  I made pool cues with my name on them and sent them all over the world.  I ordered match booklets that had my name on them, and they were distributed at drug stores all over the city.  I didn’t make money off of these, but I could go all over the world and people would recognize my name.

Goodyear asked me to build a store in Akron.  I opened a shop in Akron, but the building was costly to maintain, and management turned bad when I wasn’t around.  When I would come to Akron to help get that shop into shape, the Cleveland store would start to struggle!  Eventually, I had to make the decision to close the store in Akron in order to keep the up with the Cleveland location.  

In 1979, the building where my store was located was closed and torn town.  I moved my business to Lorain Avenue where I opened my first retail store.  I was that location until 1992 when I moved up the street and opened a larger store at about 28,000 square feet.  Business continued to be very good. 

My daughter offered to work with me in 2002.  Until then, she had been in law school, but decided to get her master’s degree in business once she joined my business.  In 2003, we opened a new business in Akron, and in 30 days the business was in the black.  Because the business was doing so well, we opened a fantastic location in Mayfield Heights in 2005.  It was the most beautiful billiards location in the world.  Both businesses are still there.  

I returned to Budapest last September.  Today, about 150,000 people live in the area in which I grew up.  As I walked around and revisited the places I knew as a child, I realized that the best life I could have attained in Hungary would not have been half as good as the life I had in America. I am so blessed to have the life I have in this country.