Grocer, Gardener, and Community Gatherer
by Emily Peterson
Better Days Intern
As a business owner and matriarch of a large family, Cristina Caputo’s resourcefulness, hard work, and generosity helped shape Salt Lake City’s west side.
Cristina Maria Brunino was born in Southern Italy in 1888. She married Rosario Caputo on December 27, 1904 in Aiello Calabro. They immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island with their 5-year-old son, Jay, in 1913. Her husband worked in the mines in Carbon County, Utah until he earned enough to move to Salt Lake and open Caputo’s, a local grocery store on 730 West 400 North, Salt Lake City in 1922. It was one of the first businesses in the area and would remain a landmark for the neighborhood for over 50 years. The upper level of the grocery store was a 3 bedroom apartment, in which Cristina raised 11 children. The Caputo store was the Fairpark neighborhood’s de facto community center for the Italian Catholic community for decades.
Cristina was determined and hard-working, running the business for 56 years. She cultivated a large garden behind their home, growing vegetables and herbs such as Italian beans, peppers, basil, and tomatoes. She also raised chickens and rabbits to help feed her large family and supply the store. As the mother of five girls and six boys, she spent much of her time devoted to her tight-knit family and taught her children how to help around the store. They all contributed to the grocery business through chores and odd jobs and actively participated in school activities.
When she wasn’t managing orders or checking out customers, Cristina loved to sit in the niche by the west window, between the counter and the grocery shelves. From this favorite spot, she would chat with customers, watch the highway (built in 1957) out the store window, and knit sweaters for her friends and family members that always included the label, “made by Bruni [short for her maiden name, Brunino].” By the end of her life, Cristina claimed to have knit at least 200 sweaters for her friends and family. She was called “Nani” or “Nanna” by her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
After her husband had a stroke around 1960, Cristina and her daughters took over running the business, and when Rosario passed away in 1970, Cristina became the sole owner. Cristina and her daughters kept the store profitable until she passed away in 1979 at the age of 90 years old. The Caputo Grocery was sold in 1981 and is now a design studio, but its legacy lives on through the Caputo family. Cristina’s grandson, Tony Caputo, cites his grandparents as inspiring him to start his own deli, which sits across the street from Pioneer Park and continues their tradition of using food to create a community and share their Italian heritage.
Cristina was featured in our mural “Roses in the Garden,” by Bill Louis, which we unveiled at the Rose Park Community Garden on June 21, 2023. Click here to learn more about the seven other women our community partners chose to highlight!