We were all saddened to hear that Tony Caputo, a founding father of today’s SLC food community, had passed away. When his market and deli opened in 1997, it changed everything. Those of us who had been forlornly hunting for the foundation of great Italian cooking in the “ethnic” aisle at Smith’s were suddenly awash in fine artisan pastas, San Marzano tomatoes and gigantic wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The man behind the wheels, as it were, brought his passion for the cuisine of his heritage to Utah tables. Caputo’s Market and Deli, in addition to being excellent manifestations of both market and deli, also became an anchor of the Firestone Block, attracting community and complementary businesses to a part of our city that needed it. Building a de facto Italian cultural center, Tony’s efforts helped many other boats rise. He educated Utah palettes, primed tastebuds for homegrown sausages like Colosimo’s and Creminelli, local cheese makers and meat producers whose products were proudly displayed among the old-world originals Caputo imported. In 2007, Salt Lake presented Tony with its Lifetime Achievement Dining Award.
Most days during the lunch rush you’d find Tony behind the counter slicing meat and cheeses and then, after it wound down, holding court out front. He’d often rush back behind the counter and holler over his shoulder, “you have to try this!” only to return with a sample bite of veiny cheese, a paper-thin leaf of prosciutto or a perfectly crisp amaretti cookie that he’d recently added to his menagerie of taste.
Tony gradually turned over the business to his son Matt and leaned into the holding court business exclusively. Hilariously, Tony and a cast of deli regulars hung out a shingle at the Downtown Farmers Market. “Old Coots giving advice,” the sign read. “It’s bad advice, but it’s free.” (The group was featured on CBS Sunday Morning, a true sign of coot-hood if there ever was.)
Matt has taken his father’s passion for beautiful food and kept going. Among other accomplishments, Matt has made the shop into the premier chocolate store in the United States. But his mission is not just to satisfy his customers’ sweet tooth. Matt, like his father, is a passionate educator; As he’s introduced Utahns to the joys of truly fine artisanal chocolate, he’s also increased awareness of the ecology and culture where cacao is raised. Caputo’s annual Chocolate Festival raises funds for the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund.
Matt announced his father’s death on Facebook, late Wednesday, March 10, 2021. “It didn’t matter what color your skin was, if you were the governor or a blue-collar worker,” Matt wrote. “He made each person feel like an old friend by welcoming them with genuine kindness, respect and hospitality.”