Red Rose Pizzeria is a Springfield, Massachusetts, institution. Regulars and first-time visitors alike know good food when they taste it and the restaurant owners and staff warmly welcome hundreds of guests daily through the establishment’s doors at 1060 Main Street. It is not unusual to find sisters Carmela Fraziero (Caputo ’82), DMD, and Rita Caputo-Capua ’85 seating guests and serving meals at the Red Rose where they have both been working since childhood.
Every story has a beginning.
And in the case of sisters Carmela Fraziero (Caputo ’82), DMD, and Rita Caputo-Capua ’85 their story is a page-turner that just keeps getting better. Linked by family and the family business, Rita and Carmela have been working alongside their parents Nicola and Edda and brother Tony for decades at the iconic Red Rose Pizzeria in Springfield, Massachusetts.
While the Red Rose has occupied various shop fronts downtown over the years, the present location at 1060 Main Street has blossomed into a Springfield mainstay founded on a dream and hard work. It is that very same work ethic that has propelled Rita and Carmela to becoming the successful business leaders they are today.
While Rita’s and Carmela’s stories continue to unfold, they both have a shared chapter at American International College. Representing the classes of 1985 and 1982 respectively, Rita and Carmela continue to make everyone at AIC proud with their accomplishments.
Read on to learn more about the Caputo sisters and how they are part of AIC’s ever growing alumni success stories.
If enthusiasm were a person, it would be Rita Caputo-Capua ’85. With the energy of 10 women half her age, this quick-talking, fast-moving, dark-haired, dark-eyed dynamo manages both front of house and the “business behind the business” of Red Rose Pizzeria, the family-owned, award-winning Springfield landmark she runs with her younger brother Tony.
“A typical day for me starts off around 9:30 a.m.,” said Caputo-Capua. “I do all the deposits and banking, then before we open, I check all the sauces in the steam table to make sure everything is up to par. I do a walk around the dining room to make sure the tables are set properly, chairs are clean, check the staff uniforms making sure aprons are clean and shirts are ironed. I check with the pizza kitchen and the dinner kitchen to make sure they’re all set, and the rest of the day is history, sometimes until 1 a.m. I go like it’s nothing.”
And Caputo-Capua has been going full steam ahead at Red Rose since she first started waiting tables as a young girl. “I grew up a lot faster
than most kids because I was waitressing when I was 11 years old with my mom. It was a lot of hard work, but we always had a good meal all together as a family at the end of the night. I also learned early on all about dealing with customers, good and bad.”
Caputo-Capua’s parents, Nicola and Edda, arrived “right off the boat” in 1958 with $45 to their name. A master tailor by trade and an accomplished seamstress, by 1963 the Caputos had decided to open a small “Mom and Pop” restaurant, named for an image seen in a dream. “My mother’s youngest brother, who was a partner with them 55 years ago, had a dream that he was walking in the woods and came upon an old man sitting in front of a cabin pointing upward to a neon sign that said ‘Red Rose.’ And that’s how the name came to be.”
Originally a 10-table joint in a strip mall on Main Street that served up pizza, pasta, and grinders, the Red Rose started out small, but was destined to bloom and flourish. Today, the restaurant at 1060 Main Street seats over 600 patrons and employs more than 150 staff, making it one of the most successful and enduring establishments in New England.
“I grew up in the restaurant business,” said Caputo-Capua. “I always knew it’s what I wanted to do and, to this day, I love it as much as I did from day one.”
After high school, Caputo-Capua attended AIC, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. “It was perfect for me. The College was so close I could work at the restaurant after classes, and everything I learned as an accounting major could be applied to running the business.”
Caputo-Capua is so good at building businesses—and so full of energy—she launched a new one a few years ago. “I started bottling our marinara sauce and dressing. It’s now carried in 13 family-owned supermarkets in the Northeast.”
Caputo-Capua’s life has always revolved around family and the business. She even met her husband at Red Rose. “Ralph started working with us when he was eight years old folding pizza boxes and cleaning tables. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary!”
The Capuas have twin 21-year-old daughters, Dianna and Sofia, both seniors in college, who also help out in the restaurant when they can. Dianna is majoring in business management at Bentley University and Sofia, who wants to become an orthopedic PA, is finishing her studies at Springfield College. “Dianna is a ‘mini-me,’” said Caputo-Capua, “and Sofia is more my husband. But they both love to work, and when they have a night or a weekend off, they’ll come in and earn some money.”
It isn’t surprising that the Capua twins enjoy returning to the bright, bustling business. In many ways, it is the beating heart of their family, every task a labor of love, every dish created with care, every guest welcomed with warmth and made to feel at home. And speaking of hearts, the twins were Valentine’s Day babies, Caputo-Capua’s maternal grandmother was also born on Valentine’s Day, and her father’s mother passed from this world to the next on Valentine’s Day—a connection of sweet synchronicities.
Since the MGM Casino recently opened next door, Red Rose has experienced another burst of growth, and her sister Carmela, retired after a career as a dentist, has returned to help out. According to Caputo-Capua, they have definitely seen an increase in sales both during the week and on the weekends. “It’s crazy!” she said. “But I love it. I love creating dishes—my brother Tony and I create everything on the menu. I love being around people. I love making customers happy. I’m still putting in 12- to 14-hour shifts, but I feel like I’m at a party every day. I love it all.”
Retirement means different things to different people, but it usually involves leisure-time activities. For retired dentist Dr. Carmela Fraziero (Caputo ’82), however, “retirement” sometimes means working longer hours than she did when she was in private practice. Fortunately, she loves what she’s doing and where she’s doing it: her family’s famous Red Rose Pizzeria and Restaurant. “I work harder now than I ever did,” she quipped, “but that’s who I am. I’m not the type to sit around. And I love the restaurant and all the interaction with the customers and the staff.”
Dr. Fraziero recently returned to the Red Rose after a 22-year career in dentistry. “From the time I was 15, I wanted to become a dentist. I loved dentistry. I met my former husband at AIC, got married right out of college, and he became a dentist, then an oral surgeon. We actually had a joint practice in the area where the Red Rose is.”
Dr. Fraziero graduated from AIC in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a double minor in chemistry and psychology. “I took lots of science in high school, all in preparation for dental school. I actually took so many AP classes I was able to finish a bio major and two minors in three years.”
While an undergrad, Fraziero and some classmates started a co-ed sorority/fraternity, Delta Tao Omega. “We were the science geeks so we decided to start our own Greek society. I went to school full-time, worked full-time, and studied full-time. DTO was my college extracurricular, and I also was inducted into the French language honor society.”
Fraziero fondly remembers Dr. David Ahlberg, her biology professor, who occasionally still has lunch with his wife at the Red Rose. “He really lit a fire under you. He was tough, but it motivated you. He made you want to work and succeed.”
After AIC, Fraziero studied at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, a member of the last class to graduate ORU’s dentistry school in 1986. She returned to Springfield, opened her own dental practice the next year, and never looked back. “I have two speeds—on and off. My mom is a very high energy woman, very people-oriented. My dad was a little more subdued, he was a hard-working man. You set a goal and you go for it. I take after both of them.”
Fraziero’s daughter, Christina, who works as an attorney in Manhattan, takes after her mother in a professional sense. “My daughter has started to realize that being a woman and being smart doesn’t always guarantee you entrance into the ‘good ’ol boys club.’ I know what it’s like to be a woman in what was considered a man’s field. There were three girls in my dental school class. I always felt as though I had to prove myself. I put on a hard front because I had to, but I’m really a softy on the inside.”
Fraziero may be kind beneath the tough exterior, but she’s also a bit of a daredevil. “Whatever looks like fun, I do it. And if I have to do something that isn’t so much fun, I try to have a good time with it anyway.”
Fraziero has gone bungee jumping and once, while parasailing in Florida, she had a death-defying moment. “A rope broke and I fell out of the sky into the water and almost drowned!”
The mishap didn’t stop her, though, and never dampened her spirit of adventure. “I love to see and experience new things. I travel a lot and I want to see what the locals do, not just what the tourists do. I’m a very curious person. I could have fun just watching people walk by while sitting on a park bench in New York City.”
When Fraziero isn’t working or exploring or observing, she is participating in walks to support breast cancer research and hanging out with friends, enjoying a glass of wine. “I’m a very strong personality, but I know when I need to take time for myself, to shut it all off.”
Dr. Fraziero may be the hardest-working woman in retirement, but she may just be having the time of her life, too.
Nicholas ‘NICK’ Malafronte ’02, graduated from American International College in 2002 with a BSBA degree. The Springfield native majored in international business and found himself in the restaurant industry as a way to pay for college. After his AIC graduation, Nick went on to become the kitchen manager for the ever-popular and family-friendly Red Rose Pizzeria. “The Red Rose has been good to me and I’m getting to be part of a business I love.”
-By Ellen Dooley
Photos by Seth Kaye