Dynamic community, business leader Will Samuels is dead at 52
WILL SAMUELS, the former executive director of Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation, and the business owner of King Cake Hub, Pizza NOLA and La Dolce NOLA, died after a protracted battle with cancer on September 7, 2021. He was 52.
A native of New Orleans, Samuels was a charismatic figure, who immersed himself in the food culture and made himself the center of colorful events such as “Sharknado” viewing parties at his popular Pizza NOLA site and kickoff parties for his popular King Cake Hub business on Twelfth Night mornings with local musical celebrities that signaled the beginning of the Carnival season.
He made many connections in the local music industry when he worked as the director of operations for his brother Mark’s Basin Street Records following the tragic accident that killed Mark’s wife and co-owner Patti Arnold Samuels. He also served as the conference manager for the first four Cutting Edge Music Festivals.
Following his graduation from Benjamin Franklin High School, Samuels enrolled at the University of Texas, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He later worked on partial fulfillment of the requirements for a master’s degree at Loyola University. Having worked at KVRX-FM, the student radio station in Austin, Samuels worked for a short time at a River Parishes radio station under the air name of Will Dixon.
Samuels was active in the Conservative Jewish community, having served as a regional advisor for the United Synagogue Youth (USY), the youth program of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He became the executive director of Tikvat Shalom and, later, following the merger with Chevra Thilim, was the executive director of Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue. Even after he left his administrator role, Samuels continued to volunteer his time and energy as a member of the synagogue’s board.
Following the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Samuels met his wife Jennifer at an Odgen (Museum) After Hours gathering and the two soon became partners on a number of food ventures.
Samuels began his foray into the food service industry with a pizza-by-the slice pop-up at The Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. Based on his success there, he opened a Rotolo’s Pizza franchise near the House of Blues on Decatur Street and later closed it and reopened it as his own French Quarter Pizzeria in 2006.
In 2006, he sold French Quarter Pizzeria and later opened La Dolce NOLA, a gelateria, in a small strip mall location at the foot of Metairie Road, just off Friedrichs Avenue near the Orleans Parish line. The popular dessert place proved to be a success for the Samuels family and later led to the opening of Pizza NOLA on West Harrison. They also offered breakfasts at Bawk, a popular pop-up there. When La Dolce NOLA was closed, some of its gelato offerings were also dispensed at Pizza NOLA.
Samuels found a niche at Carnival time at Pizza NOLA, when he began to sell king cakes as a sideline. He made a connection with the Dong Phuong Bakery and trucked dozens of their king cakes for sale at his Pizza NOLA location in Lakeview before it was eventually closed. Samuels credited his sales as having established a bigger public demand for their king cakes.
Based on the success of his sales at Pizza NOLA, Samuels opened King Cake Hub in 2018 at the site of the former P. J. McMahon & Sons Funeral Home, adjacent to the old Chevra Thilim, Gates of Prayer and Beth Israel Cemeteries. Eventually, he sold as many as 50 different varieties of king cakes from more than a dozen local area bakeries, but, ironically, Dong Phuong wasn’t among them. They had become so popular in the interim that they elected to sell their own wares.
In addition to his wife, Samuels is survived by his parents Alvin and Madilyn Samuels, his siblings Mark Samuels (Kara) and Gregory Samuels and his daughter Livia.
A private graveside service for family members only preceded a celebration of Samuels’ life at Lake Lawn Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd. at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, September 10. Rabbi Deborah Silver officiated.
Memorial donations are suggested to Shir Chadash, 3700 West Esplanade Avenue N, Metairie, LA. 70002.