Capurro’s Merges Italian tradition with American Heritage

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Photos from Capurro’s

Paul Capurro vividly remembers days as a kid running down to Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up seafood or visit his grandfather hard at work.

Capurro’s life has always revolved around the wharf, family, and good food. He’s a fourth generation Italian who currently manages Capurro’s, a longstanding San Francisco seafood restaurant with authentic Italian cuisine, and he’s passionate about keeping the Italian-American heritage of the restaurant alive. 

“We’re one of the original families, still here, still toiling, still buying directly from our cousins that are still fishermen,” Capurro says. “We’re trying to maintain an old tradition.”

Menu items at Capurro’s are simple, authentic, and fresh; they include family recipes like Nonna’s clam chowder, woodstone oven roasted dungeness crab topped with shallots, parsley, chili flakes and a white wine sauce, and Nonna’s Cioppino Alla Siciliana, an entree featuring crabs, clams, mussels, jumbo shrimp and scallops in a tomato broth.

Popular items also include the establishment’s homemade gnocchi, fresh salmon, crab sandwiches, crab louie salads, roasted pacific coast oysters, and an array of other seasonal seafood items. 

The restaurant is just a few doors down from Alioto Lazio Fish Company, a family-owned fishing company started by Capurro’s grandfather, Frank Alioto.  It’s  also one of the only San Francisco establishments with a permit to buy seafood straight off the fishing boats along the wharf. 

“My crab traveled the least distance from the water to the table anywhere in San Francisco,” Capurro says. 

Capurro’s is painted red and yellow and features artifacts and pictures of Capurro’s grandfather filleting seafood in his fish market, which dates back to the early 1900s. It’s an homage to tradition and the family’s Sicilian background, but it also commemorates the lives and legacy that the family buit after arriving in the United States. 

The first of the Capurro brothers emigrated to San Francisco from Sant’Elia, a small fishing village near Palermo, Sicily, in 1898. By 1910, several other family members joined, including Capurro’s grandfather, and the family helped establish and develop Fisherman’s Wharf. They later expanded into seafood production along the West Coast, before naturally deciding to open a restaurant in 1946, Capurro explains. 

Even today, the restaurant is all in the family. Capurro cooked for decades, and now his son and daughter help run the business while he focuses on the purchasing and inventory. Whether he needs calamari, crabs, or the fresh fish of the day, he sources it straight from his fisherman cousins who work along the wharf. 

But the familial atmosphere at the restaurant stretches beyond the immediate family and Capurro’s blood relatives. Many employees have been with the restaurant for 25 or 30 years, Capurro explains. Which is why furloughing roughly 50 employees amid the pandemic wasn’t easy.  

“We brought back as many as we can because these people are my family,” Capurro says.

Like many San Francisco restaurants, Capurro’s has struggled to cope with the changes brought about by COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, tour groups with 40 to 50 people frequented the establishment multiple times a day and Capurro regularly arranged private parties. Now, business is down about 80%, he says.

However, Capurro’s son has committed to updating the company. He’s incorporated social media and turned to third-party delivery in order to try and reach their customers. The restaurant also opened a window for customers to order food, which they can take to-go and eat while overlooking a beautiful expanse of the Bay.

One of the worst parts of the pandemic is that it’s forced Capurro to take his first vacation in 54 years, he jokes. 

Likewise, running a small, traditional establishment hasn’t always been easy, Capurro admits. Over the years the establishment has faced competition from large corporations that have moved into the area. 

Although Capurro recognizes that San Francisco is a fantastic food city with unlimited options, he hopes for more locals to stop by and enjoy family businesses like Capurro’s that have dedicated decades of hard work to become fixtures of the city – and are working just as hard if not harder during the pandemic. 

“Us families are back and we sure could use the support of everybody,” Capurro says. “Come down and check us out now and support all of us. Family places are really trying to stay alive and keep open.”

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