Shop Talk

Backstory: 80 year-old couple help others to cook, eat Italian at Capri Flavors

Costanzo Vuotto, left, and his wife Titina started Capri Flavors as an Italian cooking school and online market in 1994.
Costanzo Vuotto, left, and his wife Titina started Capri Flavors as an Italian cooking school and online market in 1994. TERI SAYLOR

Costanzo and Titina Vuotto, both youthful at 80, work at their Italian market an average of 11 hours a day, six days a week.

They have no plans to stop or to even slow down.

The couple have been married 54 years and hope to still be working when they are 100.

“It’s fun,” Titina said. “We love our jobs.”

Together they own and operate Capri Flavors a Morrisville cooking school and company that sells Italian foods and products through its website and retail store.

Costanzo and Titina were both born and raised in Capri, an island off the coast of Naples, Italy, and both had families in the hospitality business there.

Costanzo father, Raffaele, is known for being the first restaurateur to provide outdoor seating at his Gran Caffe’ Vuotto in the popular Piazzetta of Capri.

Titina’s family owned the Trattoria Da Vincenzo, where her mother founded the popular caprese salad, made of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil.

The Vuottos worked in their family businesses until 1994, when Costanzo needed minor surgery. The couple knew a doctor in Boston so they traveled there for the procedure. Some friends had opened an Italian restaurant in Newport, R.I. and invited the Vuottos to stay with them while Costanzo recuperated.

The husband and wife decided to move to Newport and start the business that would become Capri Flavors, where Titina began teaching cooking classes and her husband started an online marketplace.

In 1996, they moved temporarily to James Jackson Avenue in Cary, while they looked for a larger warehouse space. In 2000, Titina found a 20,000 square-foot space on Morrisville Parkway that includes an 18,000-square-foot warehouse with two giant freezers to house the company’s online order fulfillment center.

The Vuottos installed a kitchen classroom for Titina’s cooking lessons, which started there in 2001. Cooking students, eager to try out their skills at home, began asking for ingredients, which led to the Capri Flavors retail store.

“We started selling items to restaurants and other businesses, but people started coming to the warehouse asking to buy, so we started the small shop,” Costanzo said.

After moving to Morrisville, Titina longed for her own special label and got a contract with the Agrigenus Agriculture Cooperative in Italy to import an exclusive brand of San Marzano tomatoes.

Tomatoes are harvested, freshly canned and imported to Morrisville. She has a similar arrangement with Basso Fedele & Figli Srl, an Italian olive oil producer.

“When I started my label, the companies sent me samples to taste, and I picked out what I wanted,” she said.

The Vuottos import their pastas and coffee from Italy and deal with about 40 to 50 importers in New York and New Jersey for other products, such as meats, cheeses, breads and wine.

Costanzo estimates that last year Titina gave cooking lessons to about 1,000. Capri Flavors’ online marketplace has more than 1,200 products, he said, and half of the company’s sales come from their website and Amazon. The Vuottos aim to keep their operating costs around 35 percent of revenue, and they see their greatest potential for growth on the retail side.

After moving to North Carolina, the Vuotto’s son began marketing Capri Flavors’ products to local restaurants, and the company built relationships with several, including Daniel’s in Apex, 411 West in Chapel Hill and Georgina’s in Morrisville. The emergence of food trucks has created a new source of business for the Vuottos, too.

“The food truck owners can just pull up into our parking lot and buy only what they need,” Costanzo said. “It saves money and there’s no waste.”

Reach Teri Saylor at Find her on Twitter @terisaylor.

Advice from Constanzo Vuotto

▪ Be honest and fair.

▪ Be knowledgeable about your business.

▪ Develop good relationships with your customers.