Imagine my surprise when I ran in from the cold for a late night interview at on Foxon Road only to be greeted moments later by the owner, the . My ignorance of this most likely well know fact around town betrayed my status as a newcomer in North Branford.
The casual, intimate atmosphere of and the classic menu items make it the quintessential family restaurant. Caprio joined me in the warm and cozy dining area for a quick chat on his life outside .
North Branford Patch: How long have you owned Supreme Seafood?
Vincent Caprio: 22 years
North Branford Patch: How did you come to own a restaurant?
Caprio: I grew up in North Branford. When I was 16 I got a job at Captain Nick's in East Haven, started washing dishes, I met my partner there actually the same week. We worked there for 11 years, that's where I learned how to cook. In 1989 we decided to leave and open our own business, came up here and opened this, and we've been here for 22 years. I've been cooking for 35 years.
North Branford Patch: It seems that all the chefs I've ever spoken to started out washing dishes.
Caprio: All the guys who go to culinary school never end up in the business. They have a totally different concept of a business. They think they're going to bring out 20 different dinners a night and make a ton of money and it's going to look so nice on the dish, but you have to put out a lot of dinners that night and you have to have good food and you have to do the work and a lot of these guys, I don't want to say they're prima donnas, but they don't know what the business is about. They didn't start in the dishwasher pit like we did. My partner did too actually–Ralph Amendola. He started at Chuck's in East Haven when he was 16 and we've been in the restaurant business forever.
North Branford Patch: What's your favorite part of the job?
Caprio: I just like the people, I like to cook, I like on the weekends when I get a bunch of slips and I've got to get a bunch of dinners and get it out right and everything's got to be good. It's a challenge.
North Branford Patch: Speaking of challenge, what's the toughest part of the job?
Caprio: The toughest part of the job is in the office, actually. That's the business end of it and as things have gone on and prices have risen, I've had to change a lot of things to make my business work. Profit margins are sinking, the seafood gets outrageously expensive and there's only so much you can charge for a dinner.
I give good food out and quality food, but I don't sell alcohol and that–in the restaurant business–is where you make all your profit. I don't serve alcohol, so I have to make my money on my food. So my food has to be good, it has to be enough and I also have to get enough for my dinners so I can survive. It's tough.
North Branford Patch: Do you have a favorite dish?
Caprio: We have shrimp scampi here, which is very good, that's a favorite recipe of mine. I just made a pot of sauce for Christmas that must have cost around $300. I cooked it for 12 hours, it's got lobster in it and shrimp and scallops and clams and all kinds of good stuff–that's my favorite. We've also got hamburgers, hot dogs, we bread our chicken fingers to order, we're a family restaurant. We've also got lobster bisque we make and homemade chili.
North Branford Patch: In this economic climate, I'm sure new and perhaps struggling business owners would like to know, how does one keep their business thriving for more than two decades?
Caprio: Do a lot of the work yourself. I've been doing this for 35 years, I still do all the cooking here with my partner, we both cook, we don't mind working. You can't come in and be owner and just sit around and watch everybody do work, not nowadays. You have to work and you have to be involved. You have to know exactly what's going out, you have to know what's going on in your dining room, your waitresses have to be friendly, your food has got to go out hot. Everything has got to be clean, you have to stay on everything. You've got to do the work in the office and you have to stay on that.
We never wanted to get any bigger because we came from a big place and we saw the headaches that came with the place. It seems like all these big places close down. It gets to be too much for people to control. You can't keep track of everything and when you get that big, I hate to say it, but people are stealing from you. If you have a bar, people are giving away drinks like crazy to their friends and that's all money that you lose. If you're not able to stay on things and really watch the quality, you can really get in trouble.
You also have to have a niche that people want to come in here for. A lot of people go in there and try to be a deli and be a pizza place and be a seafood place and do everything all at once, and you're really not known for anything then. You have to have a niche. If you're a deli, be a good deli. If you're a pizza place, be a good pizza place. If you're seafood, be good at seafood.
North Branford Patch: What led to your decision to run for ?
Caprio: Two people came in and approached me and said, 'We really need help with our Town Council, we need to straighten the town out. We'd appreciate it if you'd run.' So I thought about it and I said, 'Fine.'
I've never been affiliated with any political party, I'm not big into this party stuff. I'm into what's right and what's wrong, what I think is good for the town and what I think is not good for the town, that's how I make my decisions. I don't make my decisions because of this party or that party. You think about what's right and you make your best decision.
North Branford Patch: Why do you think it is important to have local business owners on the council?
Caprio: Because we don't really have anything to do with running the town. One thing I don't agree with is a town employee being on the council because when you're getting paid by the town and then you're making decisions for the town, to me, that's not right.
But as an independent business man, I want to bring as much business as we can into this town. We need to get our tax base to grow. If we don't get this tax base to grow, people are going to be getting larger and larger tax bills every year. There's only so much room in this town to develop commercially. We have to develop it and we have to do it correctly.
So, being from the business world, I think that's a good thing that I can bring to the council as far as bringing businesses to this town because for a long time, this town was known as being business unfriendly. A lot of people wanted to keep businesses out of this town because they didn't want the competition. The more businesses you've got in town, the more people you've got coming into town, the more business you're going to do. If you're afraid of competition, don't be in your own business because you don't belong in your own business.
This country was built on competition. You've got to be on the game and you've got to do things as best as you can.