NEW YORK — In the late 1800s, many Italians immigrated here and established the neighborhood now known as Little Italy. For decades, all the restaurants there were run by men, but that has finally changed.
In this Women’s History Month, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner introduces us to some of the first women to go against the grain.
Adele Gallo warmly welcomes customers to her restaurant Casa Bella on Mulberry Street.
After learning the ropes at a Brooklyn crêperie in the 1980s, the Italian immigrant granddaughter says a real estate lawyer and his wife, owner of Casa Bella, asked her to manage it.
“They said, ‘It’s going to be hard work,’ and I said I would do it, and I was confident. I really did it,” Gallo said.
In 2001, Gallo officially became the owner.
“I faced the kitchen, which is the biggest challenge in a restaurant. They wouldn’t order me because I was a woman,” Gallo said.
Gallo said she fired and replaced those who weren’t listening, including the chef.
“I also put a lot of women here,” said Gallo, who makes it a point to hire and mentor other women.
Some are now in leadership positions.
Also in the neighborhood, the daughter of the late Lunella Russo said Lunella faced similar challenges when she took over her brother’s restaurant, Santa Luccia, in the 1970s.
For business, she said people would ask to speak to Lunella Russo’s husband.
“She would just take center stage and say, ‘No, you’re talking to me. I do everything,'” Rossana Russo said.
Rossana Russo now runs Lunella’s, which her mother opened a month before 9/11. Her parents immigrated to New York from Italy in the 1960s and died in 2019 and 2020.
Russo quit her job as a school counselor to keep Lunella open.
“I couldn’t be prouder and I think every ounce of strength I have comes from her,” Russo said.
Russo said she recently became the first female president of the Little Italy Merchants Association. She hopes to bring more arts and culture to the neighborhood.