Rich and Rob Santoro. (Candi Santoro)
Business, Food, News

Santoro’s Sub-Villa in Saugus is closing after more than 60 years

SAUGUS — Rich Santoro says that there are people he knows because of what they order at his sub shop on Route 1 in Saugus.

"I'll see someone, and he'll wave, and I'll say, 'oh, yeah, chicken cutlet, no sauce, small,'" he said.

That as much as anything else, is why Santoro's Sub-Villa has endured as a Saugus staple since 1954.

"We always paid attention to make sure we served a quality product," he said. "But more important were the relationships we built with people. We have children, even grandchildren, of original customers who still come here."

The Santoro Brothers, Rob and Rich, value those relationships deeply. But at the age of 56 and 55 respectively, they're ready to move on with their lives. On or around Feb. 3, the brothers will retire and sell the property.

"This is our 40th year here," Rob Santoro said, referring to the amount of time the brothers have been involved with the establishment. "We are the third generation of the family, and there is no fourth generation. Neither of us has kids.

"It's time we started to enjoy life," said Rob, who married his wife, Candace, seven years ago this month.

Santoro's was established in 1954 by their grandfather, Robert Sr., who began his professional life in the tile business.

"But he never really took to it," said Rich. "Too many people owed him money."

So, he switched gears and set up the first of his three sandwich shops — this one right on Route 1 in Saugus — in 1954.

"He wanted to do something where he just dealt in cash," Rob said.

The business took off. It outgrew the first location, and moved to the site where Walgreens is now, at the bottom of the Essex Street off-ramp, in 1963. There it stayed until 1991, when it moved across the street to its present location, next to Dunkin’ Donuts.

Their father, Robert Jr., eventually took it over and, since 1991, they have run the establishment. At its height, the family had seven stores, five in the Greater Boston area and one each in Vermont and New Hampshire. All have closed except the one in Saugus (the one in Peabody is owned by a cousin).

"It breaks our heart to end it," said Rich. "But we had to make a lot of sacrifices to do this, and it's ruled our lives. It's probably why we don't have kids."

Not only has Rich Santoro spent his life at the store, his wife, Joy, built up the family's catering business, "which is something we're very proud of," he said.

"Since then," Rob said, "one of us has been here every day, including holidays (except for Christmas and Thanksgiving). Every day."

But, they said, for all the work it involved, the friendships they made with customers and former employees was well worth it.

"Our grandfather taught us how to treat people," Rich said. "He taught us values we still live by today."

This is one reason why the brothers are reluctant to sell the name as well as the business.

"We have our values," Rob said, "but what happens if the next person finds a way to do something on the cheap and it affects the quality?"

About a year ago, they say, they started thinking about selling. But they kept their ideas quiet until they'd devised an exit strategy. They knew it would be difficult, and they were right.

"We never thought we'd get the reaction we've been getting," Rob said. "We've had phone calls and emails asking us why, and customers coming up to us.

"The hardest part for us was breaking the news to the town," he said. "We've been dealing with the fallout."

Their motto has been to keep it simple.

"We make a good, quality product, at a good price," said Rob.

And, he said, "we're going to be like 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends.' We're going out on our own terms. That's the most important thing we want people to know."

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