MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — Family is at the center of life for most Italians in Connecticut, and business for many Italians means “family business.” A family business in Middletown, an auto body shop, is breaking down gender barriers.
Down a long driveway off a busy Middletown road sits a symbol of the American dream, but folks here just call it Santostefano Auto Body, operating since the early 1970s.
An immigrant from Melilli, Sicily named Sebastian started the shop. Before coming to the United States, Sebastian didn’t know much English or even about auto body work, yet still he knew he had what it takes to succeed.
“Guts, I had it,” said Sebastian.
With his own two hands, he expanded the garage into what it is now.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice in this place,” he said.
Sebastian lives only feet from the shop he opened up all those years ago, but doesn’t spend much time there anymore. He doesn’t have to; he’s no longer the owner.
“He took care of us growing up, now it’s our chance to take care of him,” said one of Sebastian’s granddaughters.
Sebastian sold the business to his two granddaughters, Adriana and Sabrina, in January. In school, Adriana studied marketing, and Sabrina took up communication, probably not the background you’d expect for two auto body entrepreneurs, yet they’ve found a way to make it work.More Italian in Connecticut:
- Send us your “Italian in Connecticut” stories and photos
- Connecticut’s Roots in Italy
- Italian Getaway Giveaway
- Other “Italian in Connecticut” stories
Joe Russo, a longtime employee, admits he and the other guys at the shop had a little bet going on when they received word they’d be getting new bosses.
“Their aunt tried it and didn’t last, their mom tried it, she didn’t last, so I figured they’re not going to last either,” said Russo.
But the twins, only a couple years out of college, are proving him and other doubters wrong. They’re an unlikely, but perfect choice as successors, Sebastian says.
“This is the best investment and I am so proud.”
In the months since taking over, they’ve been putting their own touch on a male-dominated industry.
“We want to make it pretty,” said one of the new owners.
That business model is working well; they say it’s the busiest the company has been in 15 years. But ask them whose to thank for their success, and credit is quickly given to the man who started it all.
“He’s just an awesome, all-around great man, and that’s what we aspire to be,” said a granddaughter.
He showed them that if you put family first, the rest comes on its own.