Ron Hare has lived in the desert long enough that he remembers when his current restaurant location was nothing more than a dirt lot. He witnessed the floods of the 1970s, the construction of 34 golf courses in the 1980s, and remembers when you could drive from Rancho Mirage to Indio in 10 minutes without speeding, since Highway 111 didn’t have stoplights yet.
That last one is important. When Ron and his wife, Norma, moved to the Coachella Valley in 1977, there weren’t many places to eat in the East Valley. They often had to wait more than an hour on weekends to get a table at their favorite joint, Ciro’s in Indio.
The classic Italian restaurant had opened in the 1960s by two brothers and their wives and was a staple for many locals. The Hare’s loved eating there, so much so that Ron often joked with the owners about buying the place despite having no restaurant experience. By the early 1990s, he’d wrapped up a 20-year surgical career and a stint running vocational schools. He was 65 years old, and because his parents were both still healthy into their late 80s, he worried about having nothing to do as he got older.
The timing worked out. One night, Ron again joked about buying the restaurant. The brothers said yes.
“I have great genes, so I was wondering what I was going to do for the next 20 or 30 years,” Ron said. “I was looking for something else. You looked around, the place was jam packed, the customers were happy, and we got the same food at the same temperature every time we ordered it. It was well established, and they had a formula there we thought we could continue.”
That was in 1991. The Hare’s, along with their daughter Charlene, ran Ciro’s until 2002, then sold it and bought it back in 2010. In 2012, they sold both the building and the restaurant.
Once again, Ron, now 80, needed a project. He’s not a person who enjoys boredom. So when a space in the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center in Rancho Mirage opened up — a shopping center that did not exist when he first moved to the desert — the Hare’s decided to get back into the restaurant game.
Norma’s Italian Kitchen opened in December. The family hired four previous employees from Ciro’s, including the head chef, Kina Villalobos, who started working at the restaurant well before the Hare’s got involved. Because of Villalobos, Norma’s is able to use the exact menu as the one from their previous time at Ciro’s. She’s so important to the kitchen that when Ron approached Charlene about working at Norma’s, she told her father that she would only do it if Villalobos did.
“We couldn’t have done it without her,” Charlene said. “I believed it then and I still believe it now. Next to the original owners, she was the heart and soul of Ciro’s.”
This is the Hare’s first independent restaurant venture from scratch. Back when they first bought Ciro’s, they ran the operation with the brothers for the first two years. Ron now says that he wouldn’t have done the deal without their help. They also attended seminars and conferences, and sought out advice from people they trusted.
Even though it’s a new restaurant, it’s not an entirely fresh start. Norma’s is in a space previously occupied by Valley-chain Mario’s, so they didn’t have to add much outside of fresh paint, decorations, some kitchen equipment, and a glass-enclosed outdoor patio. Plus, Villalobos is still making the same food in their new kitchen. The Hare’s, once strangers to the restaurant business, have found a model that works and are sticking with it.
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