Special/Signature Issues » 2017 Top 40 Under 40

2017 Top 40 Under 40: Frances Santarella, 39

Owner, Tarrant’s Cafe, Tarrant’s West, Max’s on Broad and Little Saint

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It's been a little over a year since Frances Santarella lost her husband, Ted, to cancer. In an instant, she found herself transformed into the single mother of a preschooler and the owner of three restaurants. Although she had a background in sales, nothing prepared her for the next phase of her life. But, she says, she was determined to keep the businesses going, and the only way to do that was to step into her husband's shoes. "What else could I do?" she says. There were 250 employees counting on her for jobs, not to mention a young son to support — and, she says, it was her husband's legacy. She felt it was vital to preserve that. It hasn't been easy, but Santarella says that the managers and staff at the restaurants have kept her going. Slowly but steadily, with their help, she's learned the nuts and bolts of the business. And with their encouragement, she's added another spot to the company's roster: Little Saint, in the Devil's Triangle. Expanding, she says, was always part of Ted's vision and for her, it's an important way to move forward. At the same time, Santarella has worked with Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center to raise money to fund cancer research that might prevent the kind of devastating loss she suffered. "I don't want anyone else to lose a father," she says.

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