Welcome to the US!
Fortunately, his luck soon changed. Upon returning home, a letter awaited him from “Uncle Sam” in the good old USA! It would seem that Angelo was unexpectedly cordially invited to join the military and serve his new country. Apparently, Angelo had dual American/Italian Citizenship from his parents’ previous stay in the US. He eagerly headed to the US Consulate in Naples where he was issued a US Passport. From there, he was off to conquer the New World!
Shortly after immigrating to Chicago, where some of Angelo’s family had been living, he enlisted in the Army. After basic training, he was posted as a cook at the American Base in Frankfort, Germany. While on furlough, Angelo returned home to Mola Di Bari to visit his parents and to also pay visit to a beautiful young woman he had met as a teen. Her name was Romana Berlen, and once he laid eyes on her again, he was certain that she would be the one he would someday marry! Shortly thereafter, the young vibrant couple got married. Three months later, when Angelo was 23 years old, his Military obligations were complete. In the spring of 1957, together, they moved back to the US and settled into their new life in America.
The First Store
Their first store opened in 1958 in Elmwood Park, Illinois at the corner of Harlem and Wrightwood. It was known as “Caputo’s New Farm Produce and Italian Specialties”.
It was truly a neighborhood fresh fruit and vegetable market. Patrons would follow the daily ritual of waiting in line for the doors to open so they could select from the array of fresh baked Italian breads and an assortment of what was just picked at a local farm just hours before in order to prepare their meals that same day. Of course, Angelo’s day began well before dawn each day as he traveled to the Chicago Terminal Market (better known as the “South Water Market”) which was located just southwest of the loop. Each morning at the market he would painstakingly scour and examine each vendor’s selection of brimming fruits and vegetables from the local Midwest farmers, as well as produce from the east coast, west coast, and southern states. Each selection was hand picked and heavily bartered. Angelo was known to drive a hard bargain, yet very well respected for his standards. He accepted nothing but the freshest products at the lowest prices for his customers! He then would load his truck of values and return to his store just as the sun rose and in time to greet his waiting patrons. Our buyers and staff use those same principals and methods today, as we continue Angelo’s traditions and legacy!
La Bella Romana Products Launched
Shortly after opening the store in Elmwood Park, Angelo and Romana identified a unique niche that allowed them to survive and even thrive in a very competitive market where few independent retailers were successful. They offered their customers quality fruits and vegetables and the freshest meats and seafood at very competitive prices. To that, they added the personal service that every Caputo employee came to naturally, and to no one's surprise the business flourished. Of course, Angelo and Romana's success did not go unnoticed. Many look-a-like European grocery stores cropped up throughout the area so Angelo decided that they needed to do something that no competitor could copy. The Caputo's made a trip back to Italy to visit family in 1984 and while there they made a point of visiting several old world food manufacturers and the beginning of the now world famous line of La Bella Romana products was launched. What began as a simple business strategy of importing volumes of authentic specialty items from around the world and passing the savings on to our customers still holds true today.
Bursting at the Seams
The first store soon outgrew its four walls and in 1986 it was replaced by the building to the right. Over the years, the store has seen several expansions and remodeling and recently we were able to add some additional parking. In 1991 however, Angelo and Romana knew that they simply could not continue to grow their business with one location and decided to expand by opening their second store on Lake Street in Addison IL. The Addison location was an instant success and we realized that we clearly had discovered a formula that customers liked. In 1996, expansion continued with the addition of the Hanover Park location. Following a strong commitment to serving our customers in a diverse variety of demographic locations, a fourth location in Bloomingdale, IL opened in November of 2004. Time has passed since the opening of that first store some 50 years ago, and many of our long time customers have moved further out of their old neighborhoods to other Chicago suburbs. Nearly every day we get calls and letters requesting that we open an Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets in their neighborhood. Therefore, in the fall of 2006, we opened our southern most store in Naperville and one year later, we opened our northern most store in South Elgin. The most recent change occurred on February 16, 2010 when Angelo and his family cut the ribbon on their new flag ship store in Elmwood Park at the corner of Grand and Harlem. Yes for the first time in 52 years the Caputo family was not operating a fresh market at the corner of Harlem and Wrightwood.
The Legacy Continues
Sadly, Romana Caputo passed away in 2004; however, she has left us with so much. She was the Caputo family matriarch and still lives on in our hearts and homes. Angelo continues his passion as he actively participates in sourcing new or improved products and continues his quest of unique and innovative products from around the world to tantalize the palate. He also enjoys the continued expansion of our private label known as “La Bella Romana” and is ever so watchful over our growing company with its addition of new stores. The day-to-day operations are now in the capable hands of his daughter Antonella Caputo Presta, our President, and her husband Robertino Presta, our CEO. They, along with their children and extended family of loyal staff continue to proudly serve the communities and people in the same fashion we have done so since 1958. The Legacy continues...