by Tony Schillaci and Don Church
Today’s average American is more health conscious and increasingly interested in ethnic foods than ever before according to the mass media. It gives new meaning to America as a ‘melting pot.’
These trends are not lost on Ken Capano, Jr. who is in charge of operations for the Capano Family business, the ShopRite Supermarkets of Norwich and New London.
Founded by his father, Ken Capano, Sr., the stores are a natural next step for the entrepreneurial spirit that is a hallmark of the family. Ken Sr.’s mother and father, Helen and Henry Capano, instilled in him two valuable traits: to look for solutions to problems rather than finding fault, and to help those who want to help themselves.
A native of West Paterson, NJ, Ken Sr. has lived in Southeastern CT a little more than a dozen years. He started working in the grocery business part-time while he was a junior in high school. For many years he was an executive with Wakefern, NJ, the primary supplier to the ShopRite chain of supermarkets.
Ken Sr.’s business experience and instincts led him to open ShopRite stores of his own: Norwich in 1996 and New London in 2000.
Now stepping back a bit from the day to day routine, but still keeping his hand in with both Wakefern and ShopRite, Ken Sr. watches trends, demographics, and participates in many local civic and charitable works.
Ken Jr. oversees the vast operations end of the business. Ken Sr.’s other son, Scott Capano, handles the accounting, human resources and advertising. To keep it a generational family business, Scott’s children, Aris and Jashira work after school and on weekends in the New London store. Another family member, Jennifer, involves herself with the perishable departments.
Good health and well-being is part of the Capano Family credo, so natural foods and organic produce of all types occupy a good percentage of each store’s floor space.
On a recent visit to the New London ShopRite, The Resident found an abundant variety in the produce section – the cornucopia included thick leaves of a giant aloe plant (used for burns, health drinks and skin irritation relief), pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, organically grown salad fixings, pomegranate juices, and additive-free soybean tofu….all in one department!
Exotic root vegetables associated with the Caribbean and Asia take up an entire display, while plantains, mangoes and other, once unknown exotic fruits and vegetables are now part of the American table, and are all readily obtainable at ShopRite.
Turning the corner we found freezer and refrigerator cases brimming with veggie burgers, lactose-free milk, soy cheeses, and nearby, a non-refrigerated natural-foods grocery section that would rival any health food store in the region.
A good choice of vitamins, minerals, natural herbal remedies, anti-aging remedies of all kinds, as well as supplements for bodybuilders, are alphabetically displayed and easily found in this part of the store.
Add to this array an excellent variety of cereals, grains, Irish oatmeal, juices, power bars, soy milk drinks, additive-free muffin, cake mixes – even “green” cleaning materials – to please the most discriminating shoppers who live a healthy lifestyle.
Recently Ken Jr., arranged for us to talk with his father about current and future plans for the family business. Ken Sr. started by saying, “the defining difference between our food stores and our competitors is a fresher, larger produce and meat department. Our produce managers, Ray and Bill have 30 combined years of professional experience and are continually improving the quality and variety of produce offered to the public.”
“As local small businessmen,” Ken continued, “we believe in supporting other local small businessmen and women – that’s why you will now find many shelves stocked with CT grown and prepared products.
“In our meat department, for instance, you’ll find Orsini’s Sausages, a product identified with southeastern CT for years and years.”
“Ken (Jr.) is very enthusiastic and open to supporting CT products; when someone makes a quality one, he is willing to put it in the stores.”
During a second visit to the New London store, The Resident discovered an entire display shelf filled with CT cookies, salsas, chocolate goodies and other jarred and packaged goods, There is local honey from Preston displayed in the produce department and locally produced farm cheeses from Lyme that vie in quality and taste with the best of US and European cheeses.
And Lyme-made ice creams in a variety of exotic and imaginative flavors in small white packages are quickly being snapped up in the frozen dessert case.
A shopper who explores all the aisles will find a whole shopping cart of CT foods that will make each meal more appealing and delicious.
“In the seafood department, all fresh oysters, clams and other shellfish are CT-raised or harvested,” said Ken Sr. “We pride ourselves in helping to bring back the prominence of the CT seafood industry – and in this way we are partners in helping local fishermen to earn a living again.” Amen!
One of the special perks about being a senior citizen is the generous five-percent discount of the total grocery bill every Tuesday. It’s available to anyone who at least 65 years old. And it pays big to get a free courtesy card for additional savings and special offers in the Norwich and New London stores.
When asked if this would be a continuing program in the stores, Ken Sr. said, “That’s certainly something that we will continue. It’s a good policy and it benefits both our senior citizens and our company’s involvement and interest in the community.”
He added that Ken Jr., is responsible for adding to and changing his grocery stock to meet new community demographics. Foods from India, Thailand, China, the Caribbean, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, Spain, and other regions and countries. These ethnically diverse foods have expanded the aisles at both stores because of customers’ recommendations and the Capanos’ good business sense. They feel that being in touch with their customers is what helped to make both stores successful and very competitive.
Ken Sr. told us “We’re not the giant chain, we’re just two stores that we hope are making better and better all the time. We do have plans for expansion, but we plan to take our time and grow sensibly and carefully.”
When The Resident told Ken Sr. that our publisher and editor wanted to know a trade secret - how was ShopRite able to plan the sale fliers so far in advance with special prices – ‘leader items’ – he immediately revealed that, “We work closely with Wakefern which does 95% of our procurement for us. For instance, in mid-January we’ll start our annual Can-Can sale, which is always very popular.”
“Those canned goods were processed and prices were locked in around September,” he explained, and added, “With seasonable and perishable items, we have a pretty good idea in advance what they will cost, and because we buy at the right price we can pass savings along to our customers.” We can’t wait!
In 2006, Ken Sr. became the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT’s Citizen of the Year. Tony Sheridan, president of the chamber is quoted as saying, “It’s easy to say good things about Ken. He sets a high benchmark for good citizenship for all of us. He’s a truly nice person with a wonderful family.”
Testimony enough that if you’re shopping at a Capano Family supermarket, you’re shopping right!