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New Beginnings

A tragic event helped a franchisee discover the sweet life.

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This story appears in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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 [1993] 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.

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