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Rebirth of a Bar
Hampton's on King keeps Capuano family tradition
thriving in the neighborhood

By Jennifer Hambrick

November 2009 Issue

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© Photo of Cathy Capuano by Larry Hamill

Visitors to Hampton's on King can see owner Cathy Capuano every day at the bar.

They say all good things must come to an end. But when B. Hampton’s closed its doors a little over a year ago after 15 years at West Third and Harrison avenues, no one could have predicted the bar’s best years were still ahead.

No one, that is, except for Cathy Capuano. The former B. Hampton’s owner has transformed that cozy watering hole into a more spacious and partylicious version of itself – Hampton’s on King – at 234 King Ave., complete with comfy sofas, a private basement party room and an expansive front patio.

But Capuano, 40, has an even more important story than the success of Hampton’s. Not only has she managed her bar into one of the longest-running establishments of the Capuano family restaurant and bar dynasty, she has done so as her family’s first woman business owner. And with the recent opening of a new bar in the Brewery District, she’s just getting started.

The New Hampton’s
Capuano had worked at B. Hampton’s – clearing tables, tending bar, serving drinks, crunching numbers – ever since her father and brother, Chuck and Brad Capuano, opened it in 1993. It was the price she paid for being born into a family that had operated one kind of business or another – and often multiple kinds at once – in Columbus since the 1910s.

In the early days of B. Hampton’s, Capuano says the neighborhood around it was hopping and, with its location near downtown and within walking distance of OSU campus, the bar developed a multi-tiered clientele. Mark Crawford, for years a B. Hampton’s regular who now frequents Hampton’s on King, says the old bar’s complexion changed over the course of an evening.

“Early on you had your worker coming in, a little bit of everybody. Then probably around 7:30 or 8:00 the students started coming in. Then probably around 10-ish, she started getting the nighttime crowd, which was just about anyone,” Crawford said.

But around 2007 Capuano noticed that the nightlife around Harrison and Third was dwindling.

“That area over there just kind of wasn’t happening like it used to be. It kind of had its day and it was done.”

The 2007 smoking ban sounded the death knell for B. Hampton’s. Since the bar had no patio where customers could smoke outside, fewer people went there. Capuano says her business dropped almost 40 percent immediately after the smoking ban went into effect.

“It affected it (business) to the point where I wanted to relocate somewhere that had a patio and where people could smoke,” Capuano said. “We tried to stay as long as we could, but I just think it was time to move on to a different location. Sometimes change is good.”

At least that’s what some Hampton’s on King patrons say. Kyle Johnson was a friend of Capuano’s when both were students at Bishop Hartley High School and has been a patron of B. Hampton’s since the bar opened. He remembers the old place, with its tiny bar area and homey décor, as laid-back and non-pretentious, but he says Hampton’s on King is even more comfortable.

“The old Hampton’s could get pretty crowded, especially in the wintertime,” Johnson said. “The new place has a better feel because at least you can move around and talk. You can get out of the hubbub and the hustle and bustle if you choose to.”

Customers can take their drinks and grub to a few remote tables in the large bar room. Or they can lounge around on one of the overstuffed sofas in the corners of the adjoining room. If that’s not secluded enough, patrons can nurse their beers downstairs in the party room, a subterranean clubhouse with two pool tables and an industrial diamond-cut stainless steel dance floor. They can even rent the room, complete with stocked bar and its own bartender, for private parties.

But the most important change for Hampton’s is its large front patio, which Capuano says has brought her business back to pre-smoking ban levels.

“People will sit out even when it’s cold out in the winter on the patio,” Capuano said. “They like to be outside.”

Customer Mark Crawford, a year-round Hampton’s patio dweller, can vouch for that.

“I don’t smoke, but I just like to sit out there,” Crawford said. “When it’s warm out, I never even go into the bar. During the winter, Cathy puts a tent up out there, and there’s heaters in there. That’s the main reason I go down there. You relax, sit outside, usually talk to some of the regulars.”

When customers do come in off the patio, they might notice a black-and-white photograph behind the bar, a photograph of a determined-looking man wearing a business suit and sitting in an old car, a relic of a bygone era. This man is the key to understanding the Hampton’s name, but he’s only part of Capuano’s story.

From Pushcarts to Plate Glass
That story begins in Palermo, Sicily, the birthplace of Capuano’s great-grandfather and the Capuano family’s first entrepreneur, Enrico Capuano. Enrico came to America in 1912 and settled in the Italian immigrant community of Marble Cliff. He knew no English and had no marketable skills. So he built a wooden pushcart, loaded it with bananas from a produce supplier he’d found somehow and peddled bananas door-to-door.

“He couldn’t speak English, so he’d hold his finger up and say ‘One cent, one cent,’” said Chuck Capuano, Enrico’s grandson, Cathy Capuano’s father and a longtime Columbus restaurant and bar owner. “He took in twenty dollars his first day out selling bananas a penny a piece. He was so proud of that story.”

Eventually Enrico opened a vegetable stand in the old Central Market on Fourth Street, where the Greyhound bus station now stands. That’s where he introduced his son Severio, Chuck’s father and the third of eight siblings, to the produce business. That’s also where he got the nickname “The Celery King.”

“He would purchase ripening celery and get kids to clean it down to the hearts,” Chuck said. “My dad would tell me that they would trim so much celery it would be up to their waists.”

Enrico ran a good business, though with no education he didn’t know how to keep the books. His wife, whom the Americans called Ginny, always did the math.

“When he made a sale he would write it down with a pencil,” Chuck said. “My grandmother was educated, and when he went home at night she would add it all up.”

When Enrico was ready to retire, Severio, or “Bud,” as his Yankee friends called him, was waiting in the wings. A high school graduate, Bud Capuano outranked his father in level of education, and he inherited every bit of his father’s knack for business.

The original B. Hampton's in Harrison West, pictured here, opened in 1993 and remained in business
almost 15 years before the move to King Avenue.

“My dad could sell the shoelaces off of your shoes while you’re standing there,” Chuck said. “He was the best businessman in the world.”

Bud ran the family’s fruit and vegetable stand, now called Cappy Brothers and Sons, at Central Market, eventually moving his business to the North Market. That’s where Chuck began his business career. The market was open on Fridays and Saturdays, so Chuck would go to Cappy Brothers and Sons Thursdays after school and help set up for the next morning’s business. In the days before supermarkets, Bud Capuano’s business did well.

“Back then they didn’t have grocery stores like they do now,” Chuck said. “Everybody went to the market and bought all their stuff there.”

But by the ‘60s, the large chain grocery stores took over the produce and dry goods economy. Bud shifted the focus of his business in order to remain viable, though he also dreamed of moving his business downtown, near the people who worked in the nearby office buildings and at the statehouse and, maybe most importantly, near the employees and customers of Lazarus department store. Commercial rents near Capitol Square were high, and Bud wasn’t sure he could make it.

In the early 1960s Chuck, at that time a recent OSU graduate in industrial design, noticed a vacant storefront in the Neil House building that once stood on High St. north of Broad. He got permission from the owner to rent it for two months leading up to Christmas. During those two months, Capuano father and son made and sold fruit baskets overflowing with bananas, pears, dried figs and nuts, and wrapped festively for the season. They were a hit.

“We made $15,000 in two months,” Chuck Capuano said, “and I said, ‘Dad, you can do it down there.’”

Two months later, Bud Capuano moved Cappy Brothers and Sons from the North Market to its own glistening plate-glass storefront downtown at State and High.

Bistros and Bars
The new Cappy Brothers and Sons was everything the old one had been – and more. The full stock of fresh fruit and vegetables was augmented by sandwiches (for 35 cents each), soups and other lunchtime fare. The deli became a destination for downtown workers and shoppers.

“It just went gangbusters,” Chuck said.

In fact, Cappy Brothers and Sons did so well that a few years later Bud and Chuck opened another deli on the north end of Capitol Square, at Broad and High. The name (the Broad and High Market) may have been prosaic, but people literally ate up the fare. Bud ran the Broad and High Market for 10 years before selling it to one of his brothers. Cappy Brothers and Sons lasted 28 years before closing in the late 1980s.

In 1969 Chuck and his brother, “Buddy” (Severio Jr.), opened Yesteryear Sandwich Shop at Town and High, the first restaurant either brother had ever run. With the success of that enterprise they opened the Big Ten Restaurant a few years later right across the street from Yesteryear.

Herbert "Bert" Hampton Nixon, Cathy Capuano's maternal grandfather, is pictured inside the Union Cigar Store – his magazine and cigar shop that was located near Columbus' former Union Station. The original B. Hampton's opened in 1993, two years after his death. Brad Capuano named the bar after his grandfather.

But no other Capuano business can equal the success of Chuck and Buddy’s Olde Summit Towne Restaurant and Banquet Rooms, in Pataskala. Opened in 1973, Olde Summit Towne is the longest-running Capuano-owned business and continues to serve a menu ranging from hamburgers and homemade lasagna to lobster tails and prime rib. Buddy Capuano still runs the place with his wife, Kay, and says a restaurant owner has to be present at his restaurant in order to run it well. That philosophy partly justifies his claim to have worked18-hour days, seven days a week, with almost no vacation time for the last 37 years. But there may be another factor, too.

“I’ve never been sick at all in my life and the first time I took eight days off in a row, I got sick,” Buddy Capuano said.

Chuck Capuano sold his interest in Olde Summit Towne to Buddy in the late 1970s and bought the former Emil’s restaurant, a Jewish-style deli, at Hamilton and E. Main Street. Once owned by Emil Windmiller, the restaurant was known for its baked goods. Chuck Capuano ran the place as Capuano’s Restaurant for 11 years, during which it was still famous for its desserts, especially the pies made from scratch every day by two women, Eunice and Bea, who had baked for Emil’s.

“They’d get there in the morning real early and start the baking, and we would sell 500 pies on Friday, Saturday, Sunday just carry-out,” Chuck said.

As the 1970s wore on, times were clearly changing. Saturday Night Fever made disco all the rage, and everyone, it seemed, was seeking the dance club experience. Chuck Capuano opened the first in a string of nightclubs, the Charlie Bear Land of Dance, in the late ‘70s, launching the Capuano family into the bar and nightclub business. In the mid-1980s he opened the Charlie Horse in Lancaster. It was a hybrid country-rock bar and venue for A-list musical acts. Loretta Lynn sang there, as did Boxcar Willie, George Shoanes and other country music luminaries.

The Charlie Horse was so successful that in the late ‘80s Chuck opened its twin, the Charlie Star, in Springfield. Through the 1990s, Chuck and his sons, Charles II and Brad, would own several bars. Charles (now deceased) would make it as owner of the Hilltop-area goth dance club Outland, and Brad would own the bars Chelsie’s and Liberty’s before leaving the nightclub business and opening a used car dealership.

Even as Chuck Capuano was collecting bars in the 1980s, he and his sons operated a number of downtown eateries, including Rigoletto’s and two different incarnations of Nibbler’s Restaurant. By that time, and through her high school years in the 1980s, Cathy Capuano also had gotten in on the act.

“I always helped my father throughout the years, doing cashier, doing little odds-and-ends jobs along with having my own job on the side, because I always wanted to have my own thing,” Capuano said.

Her own thing was selling shoes at a shoe store while in high school and, after graduating in 1987 and finishing cosmetology school, working as a hairstylist at a friend’s salon until 1993, the year Brad Capuano opened B. Hampton’s. Brad named the bar after his maternal grandfather, Herbert “Bert” Hampton Nixon, who once owned a cigar and magazine shop near Columbus’ Union Station. Chuck implemented the bar’s décor scheme and helped Brad run the place.

All went smoothly at B. Hampton’s for two years until a car accident placed Chuck out of commission. Brad was too busy with Chelsie’s to run B. Hampton’s by himself. All eyes landed on Capuano.

“She just stepped in and did a beautiful job,” Chuck said.

Becoming the first woman in her family to own her own business is a distinction Capuano doesn’t take lightly.

“It makes me feel honored and proud that I can carry on the name as a woman in my family,” Capuano said.

Outland and Beyond
While her father and brothers were opening and closing various establishments, Capuano set her mind to running B. Hampton’s.

Capuano says the ambience of Hampton’s on King is identical to B. Hampton’s.

“It feels very homey, just kind of like the old location did,” Capuano said.

B. Hampton’s regulars will also recognize some aspects of the new bar’s décor, including the large golden sun hanging on the wall above the aquarium, the purple and magenta walls and the large eagle wall fixture, whose wings spread across the wall opposite the bar.

Capuano has recently added another bar to her portfolio. She sees the new Outland, on Liberty Street in the Brewery District, as a memorial to her late brother, Charles, who ran the original Outland.

“His dying wish was for Outland to be reopened, because for the past couple years he was too ill to reopen it himself,” Capuano said.

Capuano says patrons of the new Outland can expect different types of music, from disco to retro to house music and will showcase big musical acts and top-name DJs.

As Capuano develops her career with both Hampton’s and Outland, she takes with her a storehouse of family entrepreneurial wisdom. She says her father always taught her that a successful businessperson follows the Golden Rule. She also carries with her some of her Uncle Buddy’s trade secrets.

“To make sure things are the way they’re supposed to be, you just have to be here. You can’t just run in and do this or do that. You won’t have a successful business if you’re not here,” Capuano said.

Visitors to Hampton’s on King can see Capuano every day at the bar. And if they look carefully at that old photograph behind the bar, they can even see B. Hampton himself. He’s still there at Hampton’s on King, in name and spirit.

Hampton's on King, 234 King Ave., is open 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Outland on Liberty, 95 Liberty St., is located in the Brewery District. Their hours are 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Call 614-299-2099 for more information.

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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