Vanessa Santarelli was born and raised in Maine and grew up with a deep appreciation for local food. Her father and grandparents were chefs and owners of Italian restaurants in New York and Maine. Family meals always included homemade breads, soups, pastas, sausages, and fresh salads from lettuces and vegetables grown in their garden or foraged in the fields and forests up in Lincoln.
For her entire life, exploring and supporting local restaurants, inns and experiences around the state was a high priority. Her 20-year career in advocacy and public policy gave her the opportunity to travel to every corner of Maine, experiencing all the state had to offer. While she was proud of her successful track record of lobbying on behalf of many social service and non-profit organizations, she wanted to give back in a different way.
Santarelli was enamored by the idea and concept of hosting and curating Maine experiences for locals and visitors alike, centering around their specific interests and travel goals. While she had run a statewide non-profit before, she had never started, owned or run a small business. What she did have was an entire life of investing in and experiencing the hospitality industry around the state, and a passion for the success of local Maine restaurants, hotels, and other tourism-related businesses. “I wanted to make the Maine experience more memorable for visitors, as well as for my fellow Mainers wanting to visit other regions they had never been to before in their home state,” she said.
Santarelli had worked with CEI in her previous career at the state house, and when she decided to start the process of opening Your Maine Concierge, she knew they could help. She met with business advisor, David Hill, on a weekly basis, and his assistance was invaluable. “The business advising services were a great help to me and integral in getting Your Maine Concierge up and running. I developed a workplan with David Hill’s assistance. He brought up the right questions and issues to think through as I was developing the concept,” Santarelli said.
“Were it not for CEI’s free business advising services, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
–Vanessa Santarelli, owner, Your Maine Concierge
As the business development was well underway, Santarelli also secured a loan from CEI to help with initial startup costs, which included creating a brand and marketing strategy, advertising and marketing, website development and printing costs.
Your Maine Concierge officially launched in October 2017 as Maine’s first and only statewide, personalized vacation itinerary planning service for lodging, dining, and activities, and Santarelli is the expert behind it all. Her firsthand experiences positioned her well to become knowledgeable about exactly where and what to eat, where to stay, and the ability to offer her clients unique activities that aren’t necessarily known and available to the public. Your Maine Concierge’s services are offered in three pricing tiers so that people at all income levels can have the opportunity to get a taste of all that Maine has to offer.
“It is unusual to work with someone with such a unique and original business idea,” said business advisor David Hill. “I’m confident that Vanessa has the energy and creativity to build a successful business that others will soon be trying to copy elsewhere.”
As a first-time business owner, Santarelli explained, “It’s rewarding to know that every day I am directly supporting and helping to strengthen Maine businesses in every region, while giving my clients fond memories they will never forget.” By carefully tailoring each client’s vacation experience, she is not only supporting the tourism industry, but the state’s economy overall.
“Like countless other Mainers, I have a deep love of my home state…and I am one of those fortunate to have found a new way to give back.”