Leslie Valentine had been working in the brokerage industry for more than a decade when 9/11 destroyed her employer's downtown offices in the World Trade Center and immediately sparked a need in her for a life change. "I had been through the  bombing at the World Trade Center, and I didn't learn any lessons from that," says Valentine, 43. "After 9/11, I said to myself, 'You don't need to get hit with anything bigger to realize [that] if you're going to make a change in your life, it's time.'"
This reality check, coupled with a pink slip from brokerage firm Morgan Stanley, was just the fuel Valentine needed to switch gears. In 2002, she and her husband, Gerard, started researching franchises. They found Rita's and were intrigued that it was a seasonal franchise open only from March to October. And when they tasted Rita's Italian ices, shakes and cones, they were convinced they'd found what they were looking for. They opened their location in Oceanside, New York, in June 2004.
Currently, Leslie works full time on the business while Gerard, 48, a New York City fire alarm dispatcher, helps out whenever possible. And when the store closes for the season, they live life to the fullest. They have even spent a month doing environmental volunteer work in the Caribbean. Sales have significantly increased year over year, and Leslie has found more meaning in life making ices than she found during the many years she worked in her previous career. Says Leslie, "[The money] I made at Morgan Stanley came at a price, and it was a price I didn't realize I was paying."