Carlo Capua and his mother Janet harness the power of community, family and food to make Fort Worth a better place to live.
Carlo Capua always knew his mom Janet was a good cook. Early on, he also realized that not everyone ate like his family. “We rarely went out to dinner,” he said. His mom cooked what he calls “real authentic food” from her mother’s recipes, and by the time Capua was in high school, he noticed that many of his friends were inviting themselves over for dinner. Janet’s love of cooking and her Family First mindset led her to start Z’s Café in 2008.
The Plan was that Janet, a dental hygienist by training, would run the kitchen, and Carlo, with his business degree from TCU, would run the rest of what Carlo called a “social enterprise.” Z’s Café quickly became the first Blue Zones Approved catering business in Fort Worth with a menu that offered plant-based dining options – having a Plant Slant in Blue Zones terms – along with whole grain bread, wraps, and fruit for dessert. Plant Slant and Family First, or prioritizing loved ones, are two of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles practiced by those who have lived the longest in the original Blue Zones areas of the world.
But Z’s Café offered more than just healthy options. Early on, the Capuas partnered with Samaritan House to provide jobs, skills, and self-confidence to its residents who had come from homelessness due to mental, physical, or medical disabilities or substance abuse. Twelve years in, they had 163 employees, many of whom never thought they’d have a second chance. Capua believes in the power of transformation, and the Power 9 principle of Purpose. “Give people a reason to get out of bed in the morning, so they feel wanted and needed,” he said. Along the way, Capua met his wife Rachel at one of Z’s first catering events. “If you start a catering business you might meet the woman of your dreams,” he said. “She’s always my quality control for recipes.”
Flash forward to spring 2020. Z’s Café had three main groups of customers, according to Capua: Universities like TCU and UNT, businesses who needed boxed lunches for meetings, and events like weddings and fundraisers who utilized the company’s catering arm. When COVID-19 brought events and business lunches to a screeching halt, the Capuas had a group of employees in danger of losing their livelihoods, and refrigerators and freezers full of product that were in danger of spoiling. “We had to pivot with a capitol PIVOT,” Capua said. Z’s Café started the Crisis Meals Program for families in the Fort Worth ISD, filling a major need in a time when hunger would potentially spike in the area. “What happens when kids lose the free or reduced lunches?” Capua said. “What about their parents?”
Harnessing the power of volunteering and giving back, actions known to increase well-being and longevity, Capua reached out to friends and owners in the restaurant industry who had what he called “orphaned inventory in the freezer.” Capital Grill and Chadra Mezza jumped on board. Higginbotham and Associates partnered with Chicken Express to donate tons of chicken, and LULAC helped redirect 50,000 pounds of Denny’s eggs. In 32 weeks, their partnership with the United Way produced 150,000 meals, first for the families in Fort Worth ISD, and then for hungry people in Tarrant County. Z’s Café staff made the meals, and volunteers prepped the meal boxes and delivered them to high-needs families who did not have transportation. Capua says clients, friends, and 200 volunteers stepped up to write checks to keep the meal train rolling.
Sadly, the effort to feed the community turned into the Capua family’s swan song for Z’s Café. They announced in October that the business would be closing, a decision that Capua says makes him feel both remorseful and liberated. “We are helping our employees find work at other companies,” Capua said. “It’s important to know when it’s time to say goodbye.” For Capua, that means graduate school through Harvard University for a master’s degree in International Affairs. As one of the youngest presidents of The Rotary Club of Fort Worth, and as a Sister Cities participant for most of his life, Capua’s been honing diplomacy and advocacy skills for years. “My mom taught me that God gave you two hands – one to take care of yourself and one to care for other people,” he said. “She’s my hero.”