By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi presented Aniello Cappetta with a blue jacket embroidered with his new title, Italian American of the Year, as part of festivities marking West Haven’s 21st annual Columbus Day Celebration on the steps of City Hall on Friday.
Cappetta, who owned and operated Cappetta’s Italian Imports in Allingtown for nearly a quarter century, was showered with words of praise from Rossi for his “inspiring contributions in shaping the tapestry of our Italian American community and the narrative of our diverse city.”
At the 20-minute ceremony, Cappetta, 71, received a General Assembly citation from state Reps. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, and Michael A. DiMassa, D-West Haven, on behalf of the city’s delegation.
He also received an official statement from senior adviser Jimmy Tickey on behalf of Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and an Italian flag from Paul M. Frosolone, president of the West Haven Italian American Civic Association, and Josephine Matera, former president of the association’s Ladies Auxiliary.
The West Haven Columbus Day Committee recognizes an Italian resident, or couple, each year who personifies service in the city’s close-knit Italian American community.
“Thank you to the mayor; it’s a big honor for me,” said Cappetta, who lives on Pagano Court, a cul-de-sac off Jones Street near First Avenue. “Thank you, America, and thank you, West Haven!”
As the sound of Italian music filled the air during the late morning cultural event in honor of the Italian explorer, Cappetta saluted his ancestry with dozens of his closest friends and loved ones, along with an array of city officials, members of the Allingtown and West Shore fire departments, and descendants of folks from the old country clad in red, white and green.
“I’m very proud of my father,” an emotional Donato Cappetta told the crowd before exclaiming, “God bless America!”
Rossi also presented a mayoral citation to Aniello Cappetta, who, in addition to his son, was joined by his daughter Rosa Armellino and four of his grandchildren, all waving Italian flags.
Before an Italian blessing from Michael Abbott, director of ministry at Notre Dame High School, Liz Levy sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Italian national anthem, “II Canto degli Italiani.” The renditions were followed by a greeting from mayoral Executive Assistant Lou Esposito, the master of ceremonies.
Rossi then delivered heartwarming remarks about Cappetta, saying: “Your indomitable spirit and meritorious good works are a testament to the promise of America. You are living proof of the American dream!”
Cappetta, one of 13 siblings, was born and raised in the town of Acerno in the province of Salerno, Italy. He served in the Italian air force and also worked as a carpenter.
In 1970, at the age of 22, Cappetta and his wife, the former Palma Malangone, also a native of Acerno, left their home in southwestern Italy and came to America for “a better life and to start a family.”
After the couple settled in New Haven, he worked for a construction company in West Haven.
In 1972, Cappetta and his wife opened their first restaurant, Mama Lucia’s in Ansonia, becoming the first family members to open a food establishment.
The couple sold the restaurant in 1976. For the next eight years, they worked in housekeeping at the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven while raising their four children: Luigi, Rosa, Donato and Maria.
The couple moved their brood to West Haven in 1983.
A year later, Cappetta and his wife started a new venture and opened LP Video on Route 1 in Allingtown. The store, which sold Italian American films, introduced the couple to the great people of West Haven, he said.
In 1989, the couple returned to the food service business and opened Cappetta’s Italian Imports across the street from LP Video. The business at 188 Boston Post Road started as a deli and specialized in food items from Italy.
A few years later, Cappetta’s expanded to offer pizza and other Italian specialty foods and provide catering services.
Before long, the business that Cappetta and his wife built in the heart of Allingtown became “the go-to spot” for home-style and hard-to-find Italian foods.
Although he handed it down to sons Donato and Luigi in 2013, Cappetta, whose wife passed away in 2016, still spends time at the neighborhood institution, now Cappetta’s Italian Imports Pizza and Catering.
Cappetta’s propensity for community service includes serving as an ambassador of his rich heritage.
He is a longtime member of Club Napoli in Northford and the Italian American Club of East Haven.
Cappetta’s name will join the 20 previous Columbus Day recipients on a plaque in City Hall.