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Restaurateur celebrates one-year anniversary of Ventura's on Longboat Key

Debra Murphy accomplishes her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant that serves as an outlet for her interests.

The bar at Ventura's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar at its November 2022 opening.
The bar at Ventura's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar at its November 2022 opening.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Have you ever thought about what food might pair well with a martini?

A meatball is probably not the first thing that came to mind. But this is Ventura’s Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar’s specialty, among many others. 

Besides the iconic Martini and Meatball Mondays, each Ventura’s happy hour follows a different theme to spice up the experience. Other themes include Wine Down Wednesday, Pizza Night Friday and the Ventura’s family tradition, Sunday Gravy. 

Owner Debra Murphy loved being creative when it comes to her themed happy hours. She designed Ventura’s with her personal touch to be a place to mingle with friends and build community over a delicious meal. 

Originally from New Jersey, Murphy has been working in the restaurant industry since she was 14 years old. Even though her restaurant experience started in a pizza shop, she has been cooking with her parents since her childhood. While working in different restaurants in her twenties, Murphy was also a flight attendant. 

Debra Murphy
Photo by Petra Rivera

“When I became an empty nester, I had to find something to do,” said Murphy. “I had been working my butt off for other people forever, and I was like, 'Why am I doing this?' I thought it was finally time to do something for myself. So, I finally decided to follow my dream.”

Murphy said that her brothers lived on the east coast of Florida and was inspired by them to start fresh for this new era in her life. She found the Bayou Tavern in Whitney Plaza with her husband, Michael, and thought it was a promising hidden gem. Murphy bought it and opened Ventura’s in November 2022.

In November 2023, Ventura's marked its first anniversary. Murphy said the season was hard to navigate, but it helped her prepare for this year’s season. She also said it helped solidify the staff and build a family atmosphere for both employees and customers.

“Ventura’s is just a good environment,” said Murphy. “It's like my backyard, basically. A couple nights ago, we were here much later than midnight. We have the firepit outside, so we turned it on, and everybody sat outside. People that were dining here for the first time came and hung out. I thought that spoke volumes of these customers that already are friends and hang out here. It's just amazing.”

To celebrate the one-year anniversary, Murphy cooked a different surprise dish every night of the month of November. She said it was fun trying new recipes that customers suggested and helped different dishes gain a permanent spot on the menu. 

Murphy said it is the little things such as the fun happy hours, the amazing staff and customers and her opportunity to be creative that makes all of the busy hours worth it. 

“I love the people I work with. I love the challenges that come along with it,” said Murphy. “Ultimately, I need to keep moving. That's what life's about: reinventing yourself every time you can. This restaurant is the best of everything I love. I love to cook. I'm a social butterfly. I love to be creative. So, it all comes together here wonderfully.”



Petra Rivera

Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

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