Saint Leo University alumnus Salvatore DiBenedetto loves The Godfather film series. In fact, he's such a big fan that he decided to start his own digital marketing agency with a name based on this title. The 27-year-old Long Island, N.Y. native operates The Connect Agency. Thanks to early rapid growth, he already has four employees, two of whom are also proud Saint Leo alumni, along with two interns. He has dubbed himself "The Grubfather."
Choosing Saint Leo
DiBenedetto enrolled at Saint Leo University in 2008, pursuing a double bachelor's in history and international studies with a minor in cultural anthropology. Growing up in New York, he explains how he chose Saint Leo for his higher education. "I was contacted by a recruiter for the northeast part of the country," he says. "I had also gone to high school with someone who went to Saint Leo. I submitted my application, and I really got the best scholarship offer there compared to what other schools offered." He adds that the smaller class sizes were appealing to his goals. "I'd rather be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond," he says. He brought Sigma Lambda back to campus and went on to become president of the fraternity and Interfraternity Council (IFC) and was a Big Brother in Gamma Upsilon. "Pledging was always an incredible experience and taught me a lot about being part of a community. Running for and serving as class president taught me how to build a community of people who have common interests. It really improved my leadership skills, and it gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my goals." Saint Leo prides itself on six core values – excellence, community, respect, personal development, responsible stewardship and integrity. DiBenedetto says these have really stuck with him since graduation day. "For me, I think integrity is the biggest core value I've adopted in my life," he explains. "I learned how important it is to maintain your reputation through the programs I was a leader in at Saint Leo and while building this business. At the end of the day, all you really have in the world is your reputation. I know I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gone to Saint Leo." Raised in a Catholic family, he adds that he had a sense of comfort attending a Catholic university. In terms of faculty, he thoroughly enjoyed having Douglas Astolfi as a professor. He also recalls how much help he received from Michelle Tracey in admissions.
A Life as The Grubfather
The Connect Agency was formally established as a legal business entity in 2017. "This went from being a hobby to a side gig for extra money to a business, and now it's a company," he explains. As the business started to grow quickly, it became time for him to have a team. So, he hired two of his former fraternity brothers from Saint Leo – Zach Nicolaou (a 2013 alum) and Peter Valcarcel (a 2014 alum).
"I wanted to give an opportunity to people from Saint Leo because we all have similar core values and experiences. Plus, giving back relates to the principles I learned in college." The company creates digital marketing and branding campaigns for clients within the hospitality field, including restaurants, bars, hotels and luxury resorts. "I work to create awareness around brands that I am passionate about. We typically create their social media marketing strategies through digital storytelling." While DiBenedetto does business with lots of food-centric clients and helps them bring out the stories behind the food they offer, his business name revolves a little more around The Godfather and his heritage. "The Grubfather name really pays homage to my Sicilian roots," he says. "But I've also learned a lot from the movie about how you just have to keep it real and do what you have to do each day." Still only 27, he's already had the chance to travel the world. Through both business and personal excursions, he has visited Australia, southeast Asia, many parts of Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii and many contiguous U.S. states.
A Unique Attitude
The young entrepreneur has an inspiring outlook on life. "The biggest thing for me is that I don't want to live a normal life," he confides. "When I'm 50 or 60 years old, I don't want to look back on my life and say, 'Wow, I could've done more.' As a generation, we have so many opportunities and resources right at our fingertips these days, so why not take advantage of them?" His motivation has come from some of those who have not supported him. "I've had plenty of naysayers who have doubted me. In my mind, anyone who doubts me only gives me fuel." And what does he still hope to accomplish? "My goals are to have a multimillion-dollar business, have my own food and travel show and to own a chain of Sicilian restaurants that serve authentic southern Italian cuisine." LEARN MORE: Check out his company's website and pages on Facebook and Instagram. Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Salvatore Di Benedetto and is used with permission.