Ninfa Laurenzo was born in Harlingen, Texas, and his father grew crops in the Rio Grande Valley. After graduating from Durhan Business School there, she met her husband (who was a graduate of MIT), at her twin sister’s home in Providence, Rhode Island in 1946. They moved to Houston in 1948 and opened the Rio Grande Tortilla Company factory. In 1969, her husband Domenic passed away and the factory was in trouble, so in 1973 Ninfa Laurenzo opened a ten table restaurant in front of the factory to stay afloat, which became very popular and was soon the core business.
In the 1980s they expanded to nine restaurants as well as several other brand restaurants, taking on partners as they opened or franchised other Ninfa’s. By 1985, they had nine Ninfa’s but the Great Chefs television team showed up at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation Street to tape Ninfa with her son Jack Laurenzo and his wife, Mary Santos, for the Great Chefs of the West television series which was to be aired over PBS nationally the following year. They appeared in episodes 3 and 12.
By 1996, the number of restaurants exceeded 50, however the family members were no longer involved in Ninfa’s. Instead the children own and operate several restaurant ventures including El Tiempo Cantinas; Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchens; Laurenzo’s, and Rio Grande Tex-Mex Grill. In 1988, Ninfa Laurenzo, who had been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and received the Business Woman of the Year award, delivered a speech that seconded G.W Bush’s nomination for President.