As of Feb. 16, a drive up Harlem for groceries at Caputo’s won’t mean sweating how to approach the market, wheel your cart in or out of it, or find a place to park.
There’s a new location, and a new leaf, for the compact Elmwood Park grocery store that for decades has been drawing Forest Parkers north of village lines. In an eye-popping makeover of the Circuit City building at Harlem and Grand, Caputo’s produce, prices and ethnic finds now fill triple the selling space of the original store. Yes, the move from two blocks away affords turning radiuses for carts and cars. Parking has almost quadrupled, from 60 spots to 210.
“This is an investment. We’re very proud,” says Robertino Presta, CEO of Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets, who started out as a stock boy 30 years ago at 2560 N. Harlem. Directing a set-up crew of dozens on a recent Sunday afternoon, and pausing to check in with his father-in-law, the founder, Presta pointed out feature after feature of a state-of-the-art green store: energy-efficient lights in the freezer cases, a terrazzo floor, induction lighting for the parking lot, and an environmentally friendly refrigeration system that, he says, is one of only five in the country.
By local standards, Caputo’s new 30,000-square-foot store can compare with the chains: Whole Foods Market in River Forest is 29,000 square feet, Dominick’s in Oak Park is 45,000 square feet, Jewel in River Forest is 60,000 square feet. By Caputo’s standards, it’s the third largest in the small regional group, after the Naperville location, which is 70,000 square feet, and South Elgin. The family-owned company, founded by Angelo Caputo in 1958 in Elmwood Park, also has stores in Addison, Bloomingdale and Hanover Park.
Presta won’t give an exact figure for the move and the expansion 10 months in the making. He says that neither the $7 million price tag reported by The Chicago Tribune nor the $14 million price tag reported by Pioneer Press is correct.
“I don’t know where they got those numbers. I’ve still got bills coming in. I’m not sure myself of the total. But if you look at $10 million, I think it won’t be too far off,” Presta said.
To run the new location, 80 more people have been hired, doubling the staff to 160. And they’re working in departments old and new.
Produce still rules. This is where you’ll find everything you recognize plus black radishes, bitter melons, and artichoke cousins named cardone. Beyond this department, which could fit almost the entire old store, specialties abound.
Frank Chlumsky, a Forest Park resident and teaching chef at Kendall College in Chicago, has been shopping at Caputo’s for as long as he can remember. Specialty items, such as Italian dandelion greens and baby artichoke hearts are what make the store standout.
“Italian wise, they got more than everybody else,” Chlumsky said.
In the dry goods aisles, there are four kinds of wheat flour from India and another four kinds of wheat flour from Poland. In the drinks aisles, alongside Italian sparkling water there are bottles of the dark citrus chinotto. In the freezer cases, boxes of plain phyllo dough sit beside boxes of shredded phyllo dough.
The new Caputo’s has a full kitchen, where such traditional fare as heat-and-serve meals – and mozzarella – will be made daily. Also coming out of this kitchen: sushi. At the in-house bakery, fresh loaves of breads will be ready every three hours. The pastries will continue to be brought in from Addison, home of the company’s headquarters and bakery. “My mother-in-law’s recipes,” beams Presta, referring to such all-Italian treats as cartocci and zeppole, and to the late Romana Caputo.
For all the excitement about the bright and big new place, mention of 2560 N. Harlem, now up for rent, gets a few Caputo’s folks wistful.
“To me, that’s always Caputo’s. That’s where my ma brought me as a kid,” said one employee stocking the coffee shelves.