Cape Gazette
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The Business of Eating

Get a well-built Italian … and feed the hungry

By Bob Yesbek | Jan 22, 2013
Photo by: Bob Yesbek The 1984 grand opening of Casapulla’s South in Peddlers Village. Grandpop (back, center) started it all in ’56.

One of the most uplifting quotes I’ve ever heard is from the noted gastronome, food critic and educator James Beard. I can just feel the electricity in the air as he uttered those fateful words: “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”

And indeed, a really good sandwich is more than just quality ingredients. It must be built in such a way as to provide the maximum amount of pleasure from beginning to end. Mike LaPenta, co-owner of Casapulla’s South, says it best: “You have to taste every ingredient in each bite.” And nowhere is this truer than with his Italian sub. Founder Luigi Casapulla knew that, and to this day the subs at every one of the seven Casapulla’s shops are constructed exactly as he did at the first store in the Wilmington suburb of Elsmere.

In fact, sandwich assembly was just a sideline for Luigi. When he arrived here from Italy, he worked for a railroad company and ran a little grocery store on the side. Customers would buy rolls from the store and take them back to the deli counter so Luigi could stack them with deli meats. Never one to rush into anything, Luigi didn’t begin to expand into other areas until he was 80 years old. The second store opened in Hockessin in 1980.

It’s interesting how the food business never strays too far from the music business. Mike’s wife (Luigi’s granddaughter) Paula LaPenta’s father owned a Wilmington nightclub with his brothers. One of her uncles, Lou Casapulla, played keyboards, making a name for himself not only in local entertainment but also as the personality behind all the sandwich shops.

Mike and Paula were working in the pharmaceutical business when they asked Luigi’s permission to open a carryout near Rehoboth Beach. In 1984, the tiny Casapulla’s South opened in Peddlers Village Shopping Center on Route 24. It thrived for years, but Mike and Paula saw an opportunity when the outlets began to dominate Coastal Highway. An informal spot for shoppers to relax and enjoy fresh and tasty subs seemed like a great idea.

So in ’97 the Rehoboth Beach Casapulla’s South opened. The tucked-away location hasn’t hurt them a bit; locals and visitors know where to look for consistently good quality. Mike, Paula and childhood friend Sean Gregg (their top-notch manager) work hard to keep the customers smiling.

One of their passions is the work being done by Dale Dunning’s Jusst Sooup Ministry. One dark cloud in the silver lining of Dunning’s fortuitous involvement with ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is that people assume the ministry no longer needs donations. Yes, they do have the new buildings and equipment, but the rest of the operation still relies on generous contributions.

So Mike and Paula LaPenta are stepping up to the plate every Tuesday until the end of March by donating 25 percent of their total sales (!) to Jusst Sooup Ministry. Why the (!), you ask? Because most restaurants are lucky to put 5 to 10 percent to the bottom line. “I feel very strongly about what Dale does,” says Mike, and for the next 10 Tuesdays he and Paula will prove it by operating at a loss to benefit the worthy cause.

But it’s a win-win for everybody. New customers can try Mike’s high-quality subs (and certainly one of the best-built Italian subs at the beach), while the LaPentas make a valuable contribution to Dale Dunning’s operation. Like that of Jusst Sooup, the success of every Casapulla’s is a family affair. “My wife and I are partners,” says Mike, “and she’s the driving force behind our success. Like her grandfather and her uncle, she makes sure everything is right and that every customer is happy.”

These are people who most certainly understand a good sandwich. Visit Casapulla’s South on Tuesdays for the next couple of months and get even more bang for your buck.

Casapulla’s South manager Sean Gregg, left, and co-owner Mike LaPenta have been friends since childhood. (Photo by: Bob Yesbek)
Note the construction technique behind the Italian sub. Every ingredient. Every bite. Every time. (Photo by: Bob Yesbek)
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