Tony Caputo established Tony Caputo’s Market Deli in 1997. Caputo Deli’s first location was in the heart of Salt Lake City’s historic Italian and Greek neighborhood and has since then opened four additional locations including an online presence. Caputo’s Deli has grown not only to be Salt Lake City’s leading purveyor of distinctive regional Italian and southern European foods, but also the second largest retailer of fresh truffle products to the United States. Tony’s commitment to quality over the past decade was won Caputo’s a myriad of awards that include Best Deli by Salt Lake Magazine, Best Bang for Your Buck Zagat Survey, and numerous others.
What was your history before establishing Caputo’s Deli?
Well I started out with a private jet and I now qualify for food stamps. My father’s side of the family came from Italy and moved to Carbon County, Utah in 1913 to get a job in the mines. I attended college at Westminster College, and developed a passion for doing some type of work in a food industry. Before establishing Caputo’s Deli I held various jobs in restaurants and worked at Granados for a lot of years. Upon loosing my job I decided to establish my own business in the food industry. I had the experience and contacts from previous employers. From there I opened the first location for Tony Caputo’s Deli in the heart of Salt Lake City. Given my location I received a ton of free advertising and publicity that really helped get our name out to the community. Caputo’s Deli sells most of its volume online, with chocolates and olive oils being the biggest components of our business, than what we sell in state to the Utah community. We correspond with vendors in Italy and all over the world to import the finest chocolate in the world.
How did you survive during the 2008 recession?
We were hit like everyone else, but luckily we didn’t have any debt. In the food industry in which we operate then our profit margins aren’t enough to pay a lot toward interest rates. Especially at the time we went into business it was very important that we started with no debt. I went into business with a partner and we didn’t borrow any capital. We focused on purchasing used equipment and finding ways we could save money.
Another thing was that my son, Matthew, had grown up in this business with me and wanted to join me at Caputo’s Deli. Our goal at Caputo’s Deli is to grow with the buying consciousness of the public. Our main crux is that we buy the very best thing we can for our customers, taking price out of the equation. We then sell only the highest quality products and never have to apologize for the product we are selling. This model has worked very well. We are the second largest retailer of fresh truffle products in the United States and one of the largest retailer, importer, wholesaler and distributors of premium chocolate in the United States.
What are the top 3 most important lessons you’ve learned as a business owner?
First, is to mind your own business. Second, never think that you’re going to be able to handle something in the future that you cannot handle today. Third, the CEO must always be on site actively managing the day-to-day operations of the company. The CEO needs to be visible for its employees to see and interact with. Employees want to see the owner and know that the owner cares for the employees well being.
Going forward what is on your horizon?
For me I’m 65 years old now and so I’m getting ready to turn Caputo’s Deli over to my other business partners. I want to travel and do a lot of things while my wife and I are still able.
I’ve been married for 43 years now and we get along well and are the best of friends.
What is the vision that Matthew (your son) has for the Caputo’s Deli?
My son’s got a wholesale business that is independent of Caputo’s that he runs out of our facility. All of Caputo’s products are sold through his wholesale business, which he in turn pays Caputo’s a 3 to 4% on everything he sells wholesale. This gives Matt an incentive to make more money than me, in which he does and I hope he continues to do so. He is a very smart young man and he works very hard. He also has an online chocolate business that is independent of Caputo’s that is currently run out of our facility.