“Come on! Either you’re ballsy or stupid to open up a restaurant in a recession!” That’s what someone said to Lisa Norcia a year and a half ago when she opened Vibe, a now popular hotspot in Highland Park.
“I was scared, but I’m also someone who isn’t afraid to take chances,” said Norcia, who has never worked in a restaurant. “I’ve never been a waitress, a bartender or a manager. I had no experience whatsoever.”
Norcia, who has 22 years of work experience is in the financial industry, used most of her savings to fund the entire project, making her the sole investor and owner. She said the idea to open Vibe stemmed from her desire to work when no jobs were available for her in the financial industry.
“I basically opened the restaurant--believe it or not--because I needed work,” Norcia said.
I first learned about Vibe when a friend suggested we host a business event at the restaurant, located at 1935 Sheridan Rd. Our demographic was women, since the products we were selling were my romance novel titled Hook, Line and Sink Him, a matchmaking service, a custom clothing line for men and jewelry. That’s why my friend thought Vibe, with its Moroccan décor, its fun girly martinis and its quality appetizers was the perfect venue.
The first thing I noticed as I was walking into Vibe were the hours listed on the front door. Kitchen hours are displayed and below that it reads, “Bar closes when Lisa says so.”
“I get to do everything the way I want because I’m the owner. I’m in control,” said the 43-year-old Norcia, who aside from being a local business owner stays busy raising seven children. She lives with her significant other and their combined seven children.
Norcia acknowledges that operating a business is stressful. “I’m scared every day. I used to get a salary and a bonus. Now, I go to work every day and I have no idea how much I’m going to make.”
As a newcomer to the restaurant world, Norcia has had to adjust to a lot of uncertainty she never had when working in the financial industy. She said that the weather, kids going to camp, kids starting back to school, Christmas falling on a Saturday night all affect business.
"You open up every night and have no idea if its going to be a good night or a bad night," she said. "I've just learned to roll with the punches."
Vibe is located in the heart of downtown Highland Park. On most Friday and Saturday nights, there is live music, and every Thursday night there’s a DJ. The restaurant serves food, but not bar food. Seared tuna, flatbread pizza, and skirt steak crustini are a few items on the menu.
The bar’s signature drink is “The Grow a Pear,” a pear martini that’s absolutely delicious! I would know. I had two the night of my event.
Though Norica employs six people, she still basically works at Vibe every night. That routine has given Norcia the chance to see some things she can’t believe.
“One night, I had to have my bartender ask a couple [of] women to please get off the bar,” she laughed. “Their entire bodies were literally sprawled out on the bar.”
When asked to compare her jobs on Wall Street to her current career, she said enthusiastically, “It’s demanding, but I love it! I walk into my place and I’m really proud.”