Somm-One You Should Know: Nora O’Malley

Sommeliers are the highly qualified, expertly trained professionals who curate wine lists, make pairing recommendations and pop up tableside to answer your burning questions about vineyards, varietals and everything in between. In our Somm-One You Should Know series, we’re introducing you to a handful of incredible women who’ve made this business their business. 

Nora O’Malley is “a devotee of the church of good food and good wine.” She is the COO of Harbor Bay Hospitality and Beverage Director at the Cleveland restaurant Jaja, a modern take on the classic steakhouse. Nora is also the brains behind Aida, a snack brand that Saveur called “the best crackers we’ve ever tasted.”

After earning an English degree from Georgetown University, Nora began her hospitality journey in Tuscany. She fell in love with food and wine while working in boutique hotels and learning as much as she could about Italian cuisine and warm, authentic service. Nora returned to the States to work in publishing and PR, but her passion for hospitality never waned. She was a harvest intern for Brooklyn Winery, then managed Alphabet City Wine Co. Soon enough, she became a certified Sommelier. 

Nora believes “in the balance of creating a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere that both delights and surprises.” For six years, she owned and operated the first-ever all-tap wine bar, Lois, in NYC’s East Village. It was a beloved spot that unfortunately had to close during the pandemic. “All the wine was on tap, and pretension was checked at the door,” Nora says of the bar, which she opened with longtime friend Phoebe Connell. “We embraced this concept, because after years of being wine sellers, we saw how intimidated many folks got when buying wine and we knew there was a better way.” 

Nora settled back in her hometown of Cleveland and joined Harbor Bay Hospitality, where she heads up day-to-day operations and menu decisions. At Jaja, which opened in October 2022, Nora applies the same philosophy of discovery. “Being introduced to something new is one of the joys of dining out,” she says. “That lack of pretension from Lois tracks through, and I've watched how our staff has fallen in love with wines they may never have tried otherwise, and then sold them en masse to customers who never knew a certain varietal existed.”

Nora features a hearty selection of wines from women vintners, and offers some out-of-the-box advice to Jaja’s guests (like pairing steak with Champagne instead of a big, juicy red!). When she’s not behind the bar, Nora also offers personalized consulting, corporate workshops, and curated events. Even though she ultimately chose a path of food and wine, Nora is still putting her English degree to good use—she writes about food and finance for places like Thrillist, Insidehook, Vinepair, and The Balance.

If Nora could only drink one wine for the rest of her life, it would be Nerello Mascalese. “I love wines from Sicily, and the combination of the lighter body and the typical bright, yet rustic and spicy fruit on the palate just gets me every time,” she says. “It pairs so well with many types of foods and is even great with a chill in the summer months. It sort of hits every note for me.”

You can follow Nora via Instagram.