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  • Jordan Snobelen

Pizzaria stands out amongst the competition, nearly five decades later

Updated: Jan 6

For the past 46 years, Rosario and Rosaria Ognibene’s lives have revolved around pizza.

The Ognibenes are the owners of Capri Pizza, first opening a location on Elgin Street in 1972 and still churning out pizzas today from 100 Dundas St. S.

On most days, Rosario can still be found hand-tossing dough, and Rosaria — or Rosy, as she’s affectionately known by longtime customers — can be found stirring a bubbling meat sauce, the smell of garlic wafting into the air.

The Ognibenes hail from Italy, but the couple met on a train while living in Belgium, where Rosario was working for American Standard at 14 years old. After marrying, the couple immigrated to Canada in 1967.

Originally called Luigi Pizza, Rosario took out a loan to start up the business with a partner. The name was changed to Capri Pizza a year later and in 1984, the partner was bought out and Rosaria stepped in, bringing her mother’s sauce and pasta recipes with her.

Nearly half a century later, the risk and sacrifice has paid off.

Surviving two economic downturns, and the opening of competing pizza shops seemingly everywhere, Capri still makes up to 100 pizzas on a busy Friday night.

Now in their late 70s, the couple are throttling back, reluctantly.

Rosaria says they used to spend seven days per week at the restaurant, often working into the early morning hours.

Their son, Angelo, 44, has been working at the restaurant since graduating high school and is next in line to take over the business, but he jokes that he’ll retire before they do.

Angelo’s wife, Liz, became a part of Capri two years ago. As Rosario and Rosaria gradually take more time off, Angelo and Liz have begun to mirror the inseparable elder Ognibenes, living and working side-by-side.

Angelo credits Liz with allowing his mother to feel more comfortable stepping back. Rosaria has even taught Liz the recipe for the treasured meat sauce — something previously unfathomable.

While Angelo and Liz eventually hope to add more menu items, Angelo says Capri’s success has been built on consistency.

Their pizzas are topped with the same freshly prepared ingredients they’ve always used, and dough is made in-house. The restaurant also offers lasagna, spaghetti, meatball subs, veal sandwiches and bruschetta, along with espresso and cappuccino coffee.

What has changed is the dining room, with space to seat 30 guests, surrounded by plain, light grey walls and artwork accents. Behind the ordering counter, there are some family photos, but little else hinting at the extended family behind the scenes.

“We’re simple, we’re not fancy,” Angelo said. “Old style,” Rosaria chimed in.

It’s a place where customers are known by name, and some feel comfortable enough to just hang out. Frank is one of those people; he sat watching a soccer game on a big screen TV in the dining room. “Frank is like part of the furniture,” Angelo joked.

Angelo says the secret to working with family is not to take anything personally when tempers get heated.

“You say what you need to say and then move on,” Liz added.

Liz takes a phone order, while Rosario tosses and catches dough in the background; Angelo is close by topping up a pizza; further back in the kitchen, Rosaria presses ground beef from DiPietro’s grocery into meatballs.

When the time inevitably arrives for Rosario and Rosaria to begin a long-deserved retirement, Angelo and Liz will be ready to keep the heat on a tradition of cooking up home style, Italian food in Cambridge, just like mom used to make.

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