When Patty Fox and her father, Anthony Tantillo, first opened 30 years ago in 1982, they had their fair share of obstacles in front of them.
"Really, we just winged it," Fox said. To fund the start up, Fox said she and her father only used tips she had collected as a cocktail waitress.
Fox, who was 19 years old, worked side by side with her 57-year-old father to get the restaurant ready. She said it had been vacant for a number of years, after the pharmacy that used the building closed down.
Papa T's started with only six kitchen chairs and a counter and its menus pinned onto the walls.
"There were many days we'd open, close, sleep and come back," Fox said of the early years. And though she and her father worked nearly non-stop, they were able to make it through due to the generosity of other businesses.
"A lot of people gave me credit, which got us started," Fox said, citing T&R Wholesale Foods of Massachusetts as one of many who gave Papa T's a helping hand, a gesture she said she still appreciates three decades later.
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The odds were against Fox and Tantillo, but Tolland almost immediately warmed to the new restaurant.
"I think the community was excited to have a diner, a place to have breakfast," Fox said. "We were very blessed."
And while a 30th anniversary is strong proof of a successfully run business, life could have taken a very different road for Fox. She was planning on going to college to become an X-ray technician when her father told her that they were going to open a business together.
"You don't want to work for somebody," Fox recalled her father saying. She said he was very concerned that his two daughters live independent lives. "In hindsight, I think he knew the world was changing, and he didn't want us to get left behind."
But even though running a restaurant wasn't Fox's first career choice, she said the experience has shaped her life for the better.
"I can't see my life without it," she said. "I think it's been a good run."
Fox can look back fondly on most of the years in Tolland, but she did say that running the business became very difficult after her father passed away five years ago.
Fox said she started to doubt her ability to keep Papa T's going. She and Tantillo had been running the restaurant together since the very beginning.
But it was one of her regular customers, Stephen Amedy, who restored Fox's confidence while paying his respects at her father's funeral.
"I told him, 'I'm really scared. I'm scared of not having my father run this business with me,'" Fox said. But Amedy knew that Fox always had the ability to shoulder the responsibility on her own.
"'You've been running it for years, and you just don't know it,'" Fox recalled him saying. "I said to myself, 'He's right.'"
Amedy has also passed on, but Fox still carries his words of encouragement with her. She knows that Papa T's will continue to serve food with the best ingredients with friendly customer service and a focus on family. It will keep up that warm atmosphere that has made the restaurant a gathering place for her friends, Tolland residents and any travelers passing through town on I-84.
"This isn't my place," she said. "It's Tolland's place."
Come help Papa T's celebrate from noon to 4 p.m. Visitors can enjoy free food, live music and great raffle prizes.