You might think a restaurateur with more than 20 successful years in the business has the luxury of sleeping in once and a while. Or, of at least sleeping past 3 a.m. on a Sunday.
But for Vincent Caprio, co-owner of the Foxon Road seafood staple Supreme Seafood, rising before daybreak every day to deliver newspapers is as routine as frying a batch of clam strips for takeout.
Since Supreme Seafood opened in 1989, Caprio, a 1979 North Branford High School grad, has started every day at 3 a.m. with a four-hour paper route. Four kids in college and rising seafood costs keeps Caprio an early bird.
“I could make a quarter-million dollars a year, it wouldn’t be enough money,” he says. “Seafood’s a tough racket; if you buy quality, it’s at a high cost.”
Caprio says within the last five years scallop prices have tripled – from $4 a pound in 2006 to $11-14 a pound today – because the government has enforced regulations on when and where you can fish. Fishermen are charging more because they are harvesting less, he says.
“I have to pay more, earn less and make it up other ways,” Caprio says.
Supreme Seafood’s scallops are scooped up in the Great Banks region of Nova Scotia. Caprio says the mollusks are delivered fresh off a boat in Stonington to his restaurant at 999 Foxon Road. He only buys dry scallops, which are not weighed down with phosphates like wet scallops.
‘They’re premium,” Caprio says. “I won’t serve garbage.”
The NBHS grad says he owes his two decades of successful business to a quality product and word-of-mouth advertising.
“I’m not going to put a lot of cash resources into advertising,” Caprio says. “When you give your product away, it’s a weakness,” he says. Instead, Caprio lets the food – and the eaters – speak for itself. The approach seems to be working. “Even after 22-plus years we still get new people,” he says.
Caprio is a self-taught investor who gained a business perspective from reading books. [He attests to buying Netflix at $35 a share.] As a co-proprietor, though, Caprio is responsible for his own retirement, so it is all the more important to be on top of things.
“The business end of the business is sometimes a lot of people’s weakness,” he says
Two types of marriages
Caprio and the other co-owner of Supreme Seafood Ralph Amendola have been cooking seafood together since the late 1970s, when they both got their feet wet in the restaurant biz at an East Haven seafood joint called Cap’n Nicks. Caprio began working there as a dishwasher when he was still in high school. It didn’t take long for him to rise through the ranks.
“Within the first six months of working there, [the owner] asked me ‘Do you want to learn how to cook?’” Caprio says. And within a year or two, Caprio and Amendola were the top chefs at Cap’n Nicks.
After work, the two would go out on the town with a pair of sisters, Debbie and Kathy White. Caprio says Amendola married Debbie in the late 1970s. And in 1984, Caprio tied the knot with Kathy.
However, in 1988, Cap’n Nicks closed down, and the two hitched men had to find work.
“We said ‘North Branford doesn’t have a seafood restaurant’ and a little over a year later opened Supreme,” Caprio says. He says their aim was to keep it nice and small. They also decided not to serve alcohol – an almost certain cash cow in the restaurant business – because they were family men, Caprio says.
“It’s almost unheard of that a business is open 22 years without serving alcohol,” he says.
Another deterrent to selling booze would be late nights, Caprio says. “We didn’t want to be out until 2 a.m.,” he says.
And as someone who has a 3 a.m. wake-up, how can you blame him?