Women in Business series presented by UMB Private Wealth Management
For the first few months of 2019, the date of Ragazza’s Food & Wine’s always-imminent reopening in Midtown was one of the great mysteries of life.
Ever since owner Laura Norris and her Westport staff uprooted themselves for new, more spacious digs at 43rd and Main, there were a slew of construction hiccups, building woes, and a mind-numbing amount of rogue paperwork. And let’s not forget the car that crashed right through Ragazza’s front door just as construction really ramped up.
Now Norris and her team have been open nearly ten months and business at the Italian eatery is booming. She’s mercifully starting to breathe a sigh of relief. “It’s surpassed my expectations for sure,” she says. “A lot of people were nervous for me because it was so hard to reopen. But it’s been ridiculously good. At first, I was conservative in case guests didn’t show up. But I built it—and they came,” she says with a laugh.
When Norris opened her original Ragazza Deli & Wine seven years ago, it only took a few months for it to take off. She jokes that her family and friends’ healthy appetites kept her afloat until word of mouth spread like wild mushrooms, er, wildfire. At the time, she was one of only a handful of women restaurateurs in the metro. Despite a packed house (and meatballs the size of your head), Norris still struggled. She knew it was time to go big or go home. The gamble paid off—and then some. “The Main Street visibility has been really beneficial. People perhaps didn’t know we existed hidden away in Westport, but they know us now—because they see us.”
Despite all her recent success (and stellar reviews), Norris still remembers how many hurdles she actually overcame. “The last year was the hardest year of my life. People told me I was just on a ‘break.’ I, meanwhile, was working so hard for no money,” she admits. “I feel like I’ve been struggling for five years. I have breathing room now.”
Norris, meanwhile, hasn’t just expanded her wine list, she’s also upped the ante with her catering business as well. The new Ragazza Food & Wine now seats 96—up from 33 at her old digs. But Norris swears it’s still a friendly, neighborhood joint. “I’m amazed. I have so many regulars—and so many new regulars,” she says. “Everybody knows everybody. There are moments when I look around and see everyone having a great time and eating great food and I think, this is so awesome.”
And speaking of regulars, many of those guests are colleagues who have helped nurture Norris along the way—long before she decided to pursue her culinary dreams. “What’s cool about it is the women I’ve worked with for 20-plus years support me so well. And so does the LGBT community,” she says. “What an asset it’s been to my business. But that thread has been a part of my whole life— women supporting women.”