Cupini's | Kansas City, MO

Cupini's | Kansas City, MO

From Rome to America's Heartland

It's been said you shouldn't work with family or friends, but in the case of the quick-service Kansas City restaurant, Cupini's, working with family has proven to be a sweet spot to success for nearly 15 years.

After cooking for the President of Italy, which included preparing state dinners for the likes of President John F. Kennedy and the Prince of Wales, Franco Cupini left his homeland to team up with his brother, who was opening a restaurant in St. Louis. That was 1968. After a few years, Cupini left, but didn't stray too far from kitchens. He worked at elegant hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, but would eventually join his now-adult son, Eddie, in Kansas City, Mo., where the pair would open their namesake counter-service restaurant and deli.

What started as a modest 1,500 square-foot restaurant near the Kansas-Missouri state line has blossomed into a popular 6,000-square-foot restaurant that has been featured in USA Today, named a top Italian restaurant in America by Zagat (where it was only one of two featured delis) and on Food Network shows including "Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives". So what's the appeal to this bustling Midwestern spot?

"We're a traditional Italian fast-style restaurant," said Eddie Cupini, who co-owns the restaurant with his father and wife. "We don't try to compete with anyone else. We just do what we do and we do it well."

That includes having all fresh ingredients to make their own bread, roast their own beef and turkey, make all their own sauces, pastas and desserts, and cook with little salt to let the food's natural flavors shine. Franco Cupini, who mans the kitchen while Eddie handles front-of-house duties, prepares different dishes daily — tomato-mozzarella-cucumber salad; stuffed artichokes; hot and cold paninis; and different ravioli filled with ingredients like duck with mascarpone or sweet pea — for their deli case. And they keep their prices affordable. All pastas and sandwiches cost around $8. But it's their lasagna that would cause loyal customers to revolt if it ever came off their menu.

"The lasagna was rated by Zagat as 'killer lasagna,'" Cupini said. "Guy Fieri called it 'vicious and delicious.'"

The casual, rustic restaurant with family photos lining the walls to give it an Old World feel opened in 2003 and has continued to draw loyal fans, including a number of Kansas City professional athletes and well-known European soccer players. The Cupinis hold monthly cooking classes focusing on different seasonal themes where guests enjoy a four-course meal and wine tasting while learning how to prepare the food. And their hosted trips to Italian destinations like Sicily, Rome and Florence throughout the year are incredibly popular. Franco travels with upwards of 20 people and leads them on sightseeing tours, hunting for truffles, hitting markets to buy fresh fish, meat and produce and leading cooking classes on the beach at a culinary center. It's all part of how they cultivate relationships and turn customers into family.

"We like to get to know people," Eddie Cupini said. "We love saying to people when they visit, 'You come in as a customer and leave as a friend."


Share