Empowered by Jennifer Sontag, the Italian Citizenship Concierge
In this edition of Empowered Women Empower, join us for a peek inside the inspiring world of serial entrepreneur Jennifer Sontag. At 19, Jennifer opened her first boutique specializing in maternity and baby clothing in the US. At 28, she sold The Stork’s Nest to Macy’s. From there, she owned high-end boutiques that catered to clients like Michelle Obama and Madeleine Albright. Now, at 49, Jennifer has moved to Sicily and is on to her newest adventure as the owner of Italian Citizenship Concierge, a bespoke agency that helps people searching for Italian citizenship through jure sanguinis (right of blood).
Jennifer knows how to successfully run and operate a business, and thanks noticing gaps in the market for each of her entrepreneurial ventures. Read on and be empowered by Jennifer Sontag!
Inside the Empowering World of Jennifer Sontag
Love Happens: As our name and the tagline of our publisher, KOKET, denotes, at Love Happens, we are firm believers that you cannot achieve any level of success without love. When did your love affair with entrepreneurship begin? How did it make you feel?
Jennifer Sontag: My love affair with entrepreneurship began in my late teens when I didn’t have the opportunity to go to university. I saw entrepreneurship as my path toward supporting my son. I grew up with a grandmother who was an entrepreneur and ran a small home bakery. She instilled in me that by working for yourself, you make your own money, you set your own hours, you control the quality of your work, and you have that relationship with your customers who return again and again. Growing up around her, I saw what a good time she had working. My grandmother was in her 70s and still running this bakery out of her house and having a good time with it. She made the most beautiful creations, and they made people happy, and that’s what I wanted to do.
On the flip side, I saw my father working himself into an eye-opening health scare, a heart attack at 52 with no reason other than the enormous amount of stress from work. That wasn’t something I wanted for myself, especially as a single parent. Being an entrepreneur allowed me to have the creativity to have the life that I wanted, all while being able to raise my son and daughter alongside me.
Lh: Tell us a bit about your past. What led you to your current project, Italian Citizenship Concierge?
Jennifer: My love for my grandmother led me to the Italian Citizenship Concierge. She would constantly talk about the old country, and the funny thing is, my grandmother never actually stepped foot in Italy. She always spoke about wanting to visit. Her parents had come over, and she was always so passionate about the country. For her, it was always an aspirational dream that someday, she would visit Italy.
As life events came about, my life was imploding in 2015, and I had put my entire life on hold for 17 years by this point. I had a child at 19 and never got the chance to travel and see the world. It hit me that my grandmother was always planning for someday, but sadly, that day never came. My children were in college, and I thought, if I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it.
It took a couple of years, but here I am. I first began my process to gain my Italian citizenship before CVOID, but that, of course, put it on hold. As someone who believes “no” doesn’t mean it’s not actually going to happen, I took it as an opportunity to make it happen. And along the way, I started helping other people with their own citizenship journeys. It lit that fire in me. I realized I needed to get back to my roots. That’s where I’m happiest. My businesses always come first. They are my passion and where I’m my best self.
Lh: What do you consider your greatest achievement?;
Jennifer: I think my greatest achievement was overcoming the odds. I was a 19-year-old parent who owned a maternity store. I was able to raise my children alongside my business and have a full life for them and me. They had great schooling. I was the one who broke the cycle and the patterns of abuse that were going on for generations in my family because I was able to have my business as that base.
My business was successful, so I could support my children and give them a great life. Now my son is grown and has a wife and child and a baby on the way. My daughter is living her best life as a young single professional. Both of my children were able to attend university and complete graduate degrees, travel the world, and live their lives with a stable foundation. None of that would have happened had I not had this crazy idea to open a maternity store at 19. That business has always been a part of me because it was how I was able to support my family physically, emotionally, and financially.
When my daughter was born, I had a lot of health complications, and I was able to run my business from my hospital bed. When she and I were discharged, the first thing we did was go to work, and I was able to have her with me. That couldn’t have happened if I had been working a traditional office job. That instilled in my children the hard work and sacrifices that can come from life, along with the rewards. And lots of time for family and friends to make and share memories.
Lh: What empowers you most?
Jennifer: The thing that empowers me the most is obstacles. I love challenges. I packed up and moved to China, not speaking Chinese. Now I work with the Italian bureaucracy every day. And with other applicants who come in with low language skills, and they’re excited and overwhelmed. I love that obstacle of getting that all organized. I have to quell their fears and keep them calm while getting them excited about the new life ahead of them.
Lh: Who is Jennifer Sontag the Woman?
Jennifer: A ball of contradictions. I’m an introverted person. My safe place is being enveloped in my own little space. I’m very passionate about what I do. I’m passionate about the things I believe in. I will go to the end of the earth for someone or something I care about. But on the flip side, I believe that everyone deserves a chance and a second chance. I feel that the humility of someone admitting that they made a mistake and will try again is very important to me. It is what keeps people going.
Lh: Who is Jennifer Sontag, the serial entrepreneur, and owner of Italian Citizenship Concierge?
Jennifer: She is her clients’ fiercest advocate. She is a gracious host in welcoming them to this new community. I want to create that community for my clients to feel safe. I want to give them that hospitality. I’m a midwesterner. We love people, and we want them to feel that they are a part of us, with us. With every business I have created, that’s what’s most important. My clients are not just my clients; they are my friends, they are my partners. I’m somebody who legitimately cares about my clients and their process and where they go in life. And if I can be a part of their journey, then I’m happy with that. I’m there to cheer them on, support them and guide them. I’m there when they need something.
Lh: What advice would you give to someone starting a new adventure–be it in business, in a new country, or in your case, both?
Jennifer: I know there has been a lot of pushback on the old saying, “follow your passion, and it won’t feel like work”. But I believe in following your passion. You need to do what you’re passionate about and do something that you care about. That’s where the genuine parts of you come from. That’s where people shine.
Be a lifelong learner. But also know when it’s time to end something. After eight years, I was tired of my maternity stores and talking about pregnancy and babies. I could feel that I was not providing the best service to my clients anymore. Passions change, and people evolve. That’s okay. I had spent twenty years owning high-end boutiques. It was a hard part of my life to leave because it was such a big part of me. But I was no longer passionate about fashion and design. You only live once, and sometimes part of that is moving on to the next chapter that makes you the best version of yourself.
Lh: Do you have any favorite empowering quotes?
Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning… Anyone can start over and make a new ending.Mary Robinson
Lh: What is next for Jennifer Sontag?
Jennifer: Next is expansion! Once our clients have citizenship, what comes next for them? How do they relocate their lives to Italy? Are they interested in buying a home or looking for a job? Do they speak the language? How can they fully immerse themselves in Italian culture? Our clients come here looking for a new life, and part of that is a better understanding of where they are and many Italian nuances. So what’s next is developing a way to support new Italian citizens through their transition to living full-time in Italy and life after citizenship.