Karen LaRosa is an Outer Boro Broad who owns her own boutique business coined La RosaWorks, a travel company that curates tours throughout Sicily that encompasses history, food, wine and culture for thoughtful travelers.
LaRosa’s business is built on lasting memories, and how to create them for those who have a thirst to travel to Sicily. She feels an extremely close connection to the homeland of her family who left Italy and immigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Today, she channels that passion into her tours and her adventures within NYC.
Outer Boro Broad Kristen Oliveri sits down with LaRosa to learn more about her background and how she views the world through a lens of a female entrepreneur.
Q: So I hear your an Outer Boro Broad. Whereabouts are you from?
A: I was born in Queens, but my Sicilian immigrant family hailed from Brooklyn. We moved to Long Island but I came back to the city just as soon as I could. I’ve lived in Manhattan, within a 2-block radius, for 33 years now.
Q: What do you love most about being a New Yorker?
A: So many things! The energy, for starters. I’m a doer and a little like a Whirling Dervish and so I’m influenced by what’s around me. I love options and in NYC you can do whatever strikes your fancy that day.
Food and wine are important to me and there are unparalleled choices here. The arts, too, have been very central to my life and from singing with a chorus to attending the theater regularly, and stealing away to museums when I can, my soul is fed.
And, I can ride my bicycle along the river, run in Central Park and walk everywhere. It’s perfect for me. I am grateful to be here.
Q: You’re an entrepreneur and small business owner based out of NYC. Tell me about La RosaWorks.
A: La RosaWorks is a silly name. We joke in our family that you can’t outwork a La Rosa, so it was a joke at first, but it stuck. I added the tag line, Sicily Tours and Travel to the end, so people would know what I do. That connection to my Sicilian heritage stayed with me all my life and once our three boys were out of the house, I decided to make that passion productive.
I started a company to share my experiences and my knowledge, and now after almost ten years, I have had so many happy clients. I truly feel enriched by their responses and gratitude for the tours I’ve prepared for them.
Q: What are some of the best practices you’ve developed over the years that help you in your day to day business?
A: It can be frenzied trying to balance a heavy client load, wanting quick progress from colleagues in a different time zone, working early in the morning and then until late at night, but I try to remain calm. Calmness is important. Sticking to what you believe in and do best is key.
I want to share Sicily my way. I feel confident in the experiences I offer, and let that support me through the rest of it. Technology is a wonderful asset, but it’s a crazy challenge, too, with so many programs and apps and opportunities. There may be glitzier ways to do things, but my approach is intimate and custom, boutique and personal. I don’t want to opt for forms and templates that would make my work seem cold.
Q: What are some of your favorite New York City restaurants?
A: Sorry to be predictable, but I do love Mediterranean food in general and Sicilian food in particular. Historically, no restaurant identified themselves as Sicilian, but now we do have some. Norma, on 30th and Third Avenue in Murray Hill is a really terrific example and the wine list is exclusively Sicilian, so that makes me happy.
Cacio e Vino is like being in Giusto Priola’s living room. It’s a cozy, warm place, on 2nd Avenue and 4th Street. Philip Guardione has three restaurants under the Piccola Cucina name in SoHo - all good, and my good friend from Catania has a small restaurant named Nica Trattoria on 84th and 1st Avenue.
Pippo is beloved by all for his crazy charm. His food is delicious and the experience memorable. I have a list on my website on the Link to Sicily page.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, what advice would you give to your younger self when starting a business?
A: There is always more to do and the computer and the phone is always at arms reach, so there is never a time when you aren’t plugged in or feeling guilty for not accomplishing something. Deep breathing is a good practice. Remaining calm and focused is key. Patience. When you spend so much time working in the business, you overlook working on the business. Sometimes you have to stop and take stock, so you can grow in a sane way. Know your mission.
I’m lecturing to myself, can you tell??
Q: What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur?
A: I am independent by nature and I guess a stubborn Sicilian too. I think I have an open mind but I want to do things my way. I can create. I can take this path or that. I can seize opportunities and help others pursuing their passions and we can find ways to work together. I like challenges and I am curious. I like to learn. Could I do all of this while working for someone else?
Comments? Questions? Want to chat further with Karen? Feel free to comment in the section below.