The economic shutdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to numerous store and restaurant closings across the country.
And it’s taken its toll on Citrus County small-business owners, many of whom were forced to close in recent months for lack of business.
But that’s not the story with La Casa di Norma in Crystal River. The former owners of the Italian restaurant had long sought to retire and sell the place. Not only did they find a willing buyer ready to take a chance on the current economic conditions, but the new owners have already started expansion plans.
Deisy Rivas and German Perez admit their friends thought they were crazy to buy now. But they couldn’t resist the opportunity.
“I love this restaurant,” said Deisy Rivas.
Rivas said she and her husband were regulars as well at the restaurant and got to know the former owners, Licio and Norma Ortiz, well.
Rivas and Perez, both from Venezuela, said they want to build on the restaurant’s success and add a few extras.
And they’ve already done so.
They’ve tweaked the interior decor a bit and added some additional Italian entrees to the menu. On the wall are framed photos of some of the regular patrons. They’ve also expanded the hours of the place: 2 to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and closed Sunday.
Rivas said business has been steady but she thinks many people don’t know about the change of ownership. She’s hoping word-of-mouth will help. The couple also installed outdoor seating in case patrons worried about the pandemic are still reluctant to dine inside.
Helping out at La Casa Di Norma are the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Isabella, and cook, Nicholas Arias.
Norma Ortiz said she is pleased the restaurant they owned for 26 years will continue on with the same Italian flavor.
The pandemic did not hinder the Ortizes from putting the restaurant on the market. When the new owners were found, it was time for Licio and Norma Ortiz to realize their dream of traveling.
“We are planning, as soon as this virus goes away, to travel all over the world,” she said.
The restaurant is at 1609 Southeast U.S. 19, in the Crystal River Shopping Center. It got its name — The House of Norma — from Norma Ortiz. She and her husband owned it for 26 years.
Ecuador-born Licio was the chef and Norma did waitressing and a little bit of everything. They looked on the employees as their grandkids.
Norma Ortiz, who emigrated to the U.S. from Salerno, Italy, said the COVID-19 pandemic did not figure into the decision to retire. The restaurant was for sale before the virus hit.
At 68 years old, it was simply time to retire, she said.
Norma said the new owner kept the name because of its name recognition.
Ortiz said it was tough leaving a place that had been a part of them for so long.
“We have a lot of memories,” she said. “A lot of beautiful memories.”