Little Lion Collective is Ready to Roar

Mindi Rose Englart | January 12th, 2024

Little Lion Collective is Ready to Roar

Arts & Culture  |  Arts, Culture & Community  |  Possible Futures  |  Little Lion Collective


Cara Santino is the founder of the Little Lion Collective. Mindi Rose Englart Photo.

Hang out with Cara Santino and it won’t be long before she puts a cup of hand-brewed tea in your hands and engages you in a conversation about how life could be better to stimulate your brain. 

Santino is the founder of Little Lion Collective, a group of women–queer and/or of color–that hosts events featuring carefully-curated drinks, food and music in welcoming spaces around New Haven. The collective is hosting a Wine & Tea party from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Possible Futures on Saturday, Jan. 20. (Click here to register for the party.)

unnamed (1)"Each event is the collective’s way of creating a better, more inclusive hospitality industry," according to Little Lion's promotional materials. 

Santino said they have always worked in the food industry. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, they've worked in fast food and high end restaurants, in a women’s shelter, at City Seed, and at Emerge Connecticut.

“Both the food and hospitality industries are rough,” Santino said. “Work life balance is terrible. Wages are terrible. No 401K.

“It’s an exploitative industry for women and people of color,” they added. “But, minus all the issues in the industry, I love meeting all sorts of people from all walks of life. I love serving them.”

During the pandemic, Santino said they envisioned a different hospitality system and developed Little Lion Collective in 2021, while running a City Seed program for early stage food entrepreneurs. The name is an ode to a different kind of collective – her family.

“My grandfather passed in 2022,” they said. “His family name is Leonetti, which translates to ‘little lion’ in Italian.

“He had three daughters, so the name stopped with him; this is a way I can honor him,” they added. “I also like the symbolism of lions with courage; as a woman, that makes me feel good. We have a collective of lions.” 

A Third Space Experience


Possible Futures Lauren Anderson. Danielle Campbell photo.

Santino wants the Wine & Tea Party to be a “third space,” where a person can slip in, grab a drink of tea or wine, and relax. 

“People don’t get wasted at our events,” they said. “They sip and appreciate.” 

She said a third space is a place between work and home, like a coffee shop, a gym, or a library.

“They’re places where you can meet other people based on similar interests and values, with little or no pressure to spend money,” they added.

Lauren Anderson, owner of Possible Futures, knows a thing or two about third spaces. She calls Possible Futures a “book space,” rather than a bookstore. 

“People can think of Possible Futures as a public living room that they’re not responsible for cleaning,” Anderson said. “I’ve followed Little Lion Collective since its founding. Their event will be a time when adults can engage in parallel play; it’ll be low level social.”

Little Lion’s Special Blend 

Blending ideas, tastes, and people is Santino’s specialty. Even the Little Lion team, which includes Toral Kunti, Jane Dowd, Jacqueline Chen, and Rhonda Smith, is a blend of friends and colleagues from New Haven. The team helps with marketing, events, bookkeeping, and advising.

The upcoming Wine & Tea Party will pull together and showcase offerings from local businesses that Santino loves, like tea sandwiches from Momma Kiss Kitchen and music by DJ A.K. Daffe.

“Toral and I want to go to Edge of the Woods and get loose leaf tea and make the blends ourselves,” they said. “Things are getting more and more separated these days. A lot of places are made for Yalies or for young people.

"We need to have spaces for the creatives of New Haven," they added. "There’s so much power in partnering with other creative people.”