Cupini's Italian Deli
The newest addition to the Made in KC shelves is steeped in old traditions and is far from a new name to Kansas City. To learn the rich history of this Kansas City gem, Made in KC Explore Food Editor Grace Pritchett sat down with Eddie and Franco Cupini of Cupini’s Italian Deli in Westport.
The story of Cupini’s Italian Deli in Westport starts back in the 1940s: Franco Cupini was finishing his industrial engineering degree in Rome when he was offered a job on a cruise liner. "I got into cooking by mistake, that's for sure," Franco admits. He attended hotel and hospitality classes so he could work on the cruise liner, even staying for two semesters because he enjoyed it so much. With this newfound experience and interest in the hospitality industry, he returned to Rome and began work at the Grand Hotel as a busboy.
Franco’s experience on the cruise liner gave him the flexibility to work in both kitchen and dining room settings. Learning English, French, and Spanish along the way also didn’t hurt. Within six months of working at the Grand Hotel, he was promoted to work on the first floor, reserved for the most important guests. “That was very rewarding but very intense work because if you failed, you were gone,” he said. “I was very fortunate because from there, I was chosen to go work for the President of Italy.”
Franco credits his career to a mix of luck and hard work. This combination allowed him to cook for countless important events and people over the years, from Prince Charles to Mick Jagger, from JFK to Guy Fieri. Despite all the movie stars and sports players Franco Cupini has cooked for, there’s no hesitation when asked who he enjoyed cooking for the most: former President of Italy, Giovanni Leone.
Upon immigrating to the United States, Franco made his way to St. Louis to cook at his brother’s restaurant. Soon after, he owned a nightclub, The Star Club, before accepting the role of executive chef at the Ritz Carlton. Franco stayed in St. Louis up until opening Cupini’s in Kansas City with his son Eddie.
It comes as no surprise that, as his father’s son, Eddie Cupini ended up in the restaurant industry before and after serving in the Navy. Eddie even joked that he swore he wouldn’t come back to the restaurant industry after the Navy, but at the end of the day, he says he can’t imagine being anywhere else.
When Eddie got out of the Navy, he knew he wanted to do something that honored his Italian heritage and allowed him to share his heritage with others. This led him to start his own company, distributing Italian products in Kansas City. He met many chefs and restaurant owners along the way, including Chef Joe Damario of Dean & Deluca. Damario brought Eddie on to make fresh pasta in-house but it wasn’t long before restaurants all over town were contacting Eddie with their own requests. Eddie soon gained the help of his father, who was driving in from St. Louis every week to help with production and recipe development. Eddie remembers his father telling him to find a location so they could share their recipes with Kansas City.
This collaboration turned into the family’s namesake shop after Eddie stumbled upon a spot in Westport. Cupini’s Italiant Deli opened in 2003 with their pasta machine in the front window, one deli case, and a few tables. Six months later, USA Today wrote an article about them. Since then, they’ve been featured in publications and TV shows countless times and have expanded their location to include a dining room, event space, and catering services.
When you visit Cupini’s, you see it’s more about the quality of the dish than the quantity on the plate. Franco admits it’s easier for him to cook things the “old-fashioned” way because it has more character to it. He omits creams and heavy butter when other restaurants may overdo it. He also proudly doesn’t use any added salt in his cooking (besides salting the pasta water, obviously) so the fresh herbs and stocks can speak for themselves.
The marinara at Cupini’s is the best example of this practice. The Cupinis use only the best quality tomatoes, which are canned within six hours of being picked off the vine. The tomatoes are steamed and canned with only basil, giving the marinara sauce the lowest sodium on the market. A lack of salt would leave any Midwesterner skeptical but I can promise their marinara shines. Guy Fieri even enjoyed their lasagna for breakfast. (You should try it sometime, it’s great.)
These days, it seems every restaurant talks the talk about fresh ingredients and clean options, but Cupini’s walks the walk. You can’t mistake Eddie’s pride when he tells us about their fresh practices and why they don’t buy into food trends: "If it's not good for our mouth, it's not good for theirs. We eat this food every day so we want it to be the best for everyone.”
“It's so different in Europe, the way the food is prepared,” Eddie said. “When my kids go to Europe, they eat everything. Here in America, they're so picky because nothing is as fresh.” The Cupinis are happy to share their fresh and healthy choices with the public, whether through their menu or their cooking classes. You can even book a trip to travel to Italy with the Cupini family and cook around the country with Franco himself. Much like their restaurant, their Italian adventures focus on cooking food that not only tastes good but makes you feel good too.
“There is nowhere in the city that even comes close to what we do,” Franco said. As you learn the Cupinis’ pedigree and history and taste the food, there’s no questioning it’s true. At Cupini’s, you can count on truly fresh food whether it’s their bread, pasta, desserts, or soup. “People have to eat,” Franco said, “and if they're going to eat here, I want them to eat right."
With all the success the Cupinis have had in their Westport location, we are so happy to welcome them to the Made in KC family so we can introduce you to their products and menu items. When you visit Cupinis or try their homemade products, you know you’re getting an experience that can’t be found anywhere else in Kansas City. "They can imitate me,” Franco said, “But they cannot duplicate me. Period."
Visit the Cupini family at 1809 Westport Rd. for fresh pasta, homemade pastries, and more.