Ragazzi Room, located on 2316 Union Ave. just off Hoover Street, was once a popular hangout for USC students. With its proximity to campus and status as one of the few independent coffee shops in the area, it was often host to groups of students coming in to study, work or relax.
Two and a half years ago, ownership of the space transferred to Jay Jung, and since then the Ragazzi Room went through a period of gradual decline in the eyes of its customers.
Then, a team of volunteers stepped in.
Kory DeClark, a graduate student studying in philosophy and one of the students who helped with the shop’s renovation, said Jung was struggling to make the Ragazzi Room a viable dining option for USC students and others. DeClark lived in the area throughout his time at USC and developed a relationship with Jung almost as soon as he took ownership of the Ragazzi Room.
“I knew just from having conversations with him every time I went in there that he was slowly doing worse and worse,” DeClark said. “He was making less money so he cut corners to stay open, but by cutting corners he got less customers, which gave him less money, He was the first one to say he didn’t have a business background.”
Jung, who had previously worked in both the aerospace industry as well as accounting, was retired when he took control of Ragazzi Room and wanted to make it a friendly, common gathering spot for students.
“Jay really just wanted to open a little coffee shop where he could help people with their taxes, which just struck me as such a wonderful thing to do,” said Monica Cure, a graduate student studying comparative literature. “When Kory started talking about the fact that he got to know Jay a little bit, I put two and two together and it was just a no-brainer that this was someone who deserved help.”
In the beginning of January, DeClark and Cure decided to assemble a team of volunteer workers to assist with the project. They were able to put together a full team of architects, marketing specialists, chefs and more.
“Monica sent out the e-mail and within two days we had about 30 people banging on our doors wanting to help,” DeClark said. “At that point there was really no stopping the ship so we just got on.”
After assembling the volunteer team, DeClark and Cure made the plans and set the work period for the last weekend in January.
In one weekend, the team completely renovated the interior of Ragazzi Room. They replaced the furniture, repainted everything, removed clutter and built new benches and countertops.
In addition to the work on the interior, DeClark and Cure decided to focus on the menu. A professional chef adviser helped Jung rework the menu by discarding items that weren’t necessary and creating the largest number of options with the least amount of ingredients and money.
They also switched the coffee to Groundwork Coffee, a local, organic coffee roaster.
“They have fresh minds, and they tried very hard to come up with new ideas for things like the menu and layout,” Jung said.
After completing the work over one weekend, DeClark and Cure are focused on marketing the café with its new renovations. They created a new logo and set up accounts on both Facebook and Twitter.
DeClark and Cure are planning more organized events at the Ragazzi Room in the future to increase its popularity among students, including possibly teaming up with the nearby Bacaro LA.
Ultimately, they are planning to step away from Ragazzi Room soon to allow it to be something self-sustaining that Jung can operate with the help of a dedicated staff.
Visitors to the café since the renovations have already noticed a significant difference, according to DeClark, and they are hoping the Ragazzi Room will continue to attract more students and become a popular gathering place once again.
“There’s something about the atmosphere here that hasn’t quite reached the surface yet,” Cure said. “This could be a great, beautiful place for people to come spend their time.”