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Hotseat - John Caputo

855_hotseatWhen it comes to making, marketing and ensuring that quality pizzas get delivered to pizza lovers, Domino's owner John Caputo has few rivals. Caputo has spent his entire life in the pizza business, having started working at Domino's when he was just 15. The 44-year-old, Aries-born, married, father of two (Katie and Grant) gives a sneak peak into his world in this week's Hot Seat.

How would you describe yourself in five words?

"Ha Ha, Good one! I would say I am a loyal, sarcastic, passionate, approachable, procrastinator."

How did you end up on this beautiful island?

"I was born in Japan and have lived all over the world, as I am the son of an Air Force Colonel. I've lived in Italy, India, Egypt, Spain, many places in the USA and of course, my home for the past 23 years: St. Maarten "

Where were you educated; what did you study and why?

"I graduated high school in 1989 in Reston, Virginia, and went to college, albeit for a short time in Texas. I always promised Heather, now my wife, that I would go to college near her and wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps and become an Air Force Pilot. I had an accident and ending up having a back operation that caused me to drop out of school while recovering. I continued to work at Domino's Pizza all the while."

How did you come to secure a franchise for Dominos in St. Maarten?

"I started with Domino's Pizza when I was just 15 years old. It was a great job while in school just to earn enough money to have fun on the weekends and save up for a car. I always loved the energy and fun about the job. The day I turned 19, I was promoted to manage the fourth busiest Domino's in the world. After about two years, I was set to open my own Domino's store in Manhattan. The guy I worked for was a condo owner at Mullet Bay and tossed me the keys to use it for a week, as he said that it was the last vacation I would be getting for some time. I came to St. Maarten and absolutely fell in love with the island. Made a few calls to corporate and asked instead of my equipment heading north, if I could open on St. Maarten instead. I moved to St. Maarten in September of 1993 at the age of 22."

What do your tasks include?

"I love creative marketing and still very much love making pizzas. My favourite is hosting the school tours where kids come to Domino's and learn how to make their own pizza. They get a kick out of seeing me spin a pizza behind my back with my eyes closed. These generate so much loyalty as we award them as official Junior Pizza Makers."

What differentiates you from other fast food owners in the field?

"Mainly I am very hands on and a part of the day-to-day operations. I live locally so I am very approachable and visible within the community and can immediately address concerns and react to our customers' changing needs. I am fully aware that Domino's is nothing without motivated team members and have been able to develop a relationship of trust, respect, and understanding. We are all working in this together."

Craziest request from a customer?

"This has to be having delivered an engagement ring in a pizza box to a customer, and when she opened the box the inside flap had "Will you marry me?" She told him yes and they shared a delicious pizza."

Silliest/funniest order?

"An abundance of heart-shaped pizza requests. I'm like....you do realise that you are losing out on a lot of perfectly good pizza by cutting out that heart?"

Funniest thing that has ever happened on the job?

"Delivery and finding houses is quite difficult here since most streets aren't labelled nor are the house numbers. I was delivering a pizza to a house that had a gate and a small dog. I called and called, no one came. Not being afraid of dogs, I went up to the door. This little dog about the size of my hand hopped on my leg and sunk his teeth into my leg and pants. I was calling out for the customer with this dog hanging on to my pants, ran back down to the gate; dog still in tow. By this time my pants were completely shredded and the person came out of the house wondering what all the noise was and said they hadn't ordered a pizza. I was at the wrong house. It was next door."

How do you respond to irate customers and unfeasible requests/orders?

"It's simple! Apologise; give them what they want and give them something extra. We have to do our best to take care of customers; if we don't, then somebody else will. We are not perfect; but we can try."

What do you like most about the product you sell?

"It's about quality. We may be branded and thought of as fast food, but I would put our products up against any place and feel very strongly that you will not find a better tasting and more consistent pizza anywhere. All of our products are made fresh by hand, as you order. No other place can make them as fast as we can and I accept the challenge of anyone who thinks they can."

What's your most popular pizza?

"Pepperoni is on 60 per cent of all of our pizzas; BBQ chicken is close behind."

Busiest time on the job?

"Month end and Tuesdays hands down. This past week was a perfect storm, month end, Tuesday, school ending, on the eve of a holiday. We had our busiest day of all time."

What is your (personal) preferred pizza and why?

"I love our Shawarma Pizza, but substituting our grilled chicken for the lamb. It is such a great combination of toppings and sauce."

How do you think the business climate can be improved in St. Maarten for establishments like Domino's?

"There is just too many of everything and little enforcement causing an unlevelled playing field. So many businesses open up without paying their taxes or other social charges and they fly under the radar. I would like to see a stricter compliance, so it doesn't put an extra burden on those of us who do pay and contribute. Ever- rising utilities, cost of the ingredients, gas, etc. also make it difficult to provide quality and value while keeping pricing affordable."

What message do you have for youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?

"I often give presentations at schools, and one thing that makes me unique in my message is that there is a reality that college just isn't in the cards for everyone. Use me as an example; I got to where I am today without family money; no college education, but a work ethic and a belief of being one who leads by example; give it my all; and good things will follow. You have to look at yourself each day and ask what you can do to be a better person; the rest will fall into line as people start to believe in you and want to follow you and are responsible for who you are."

What else are you involved in outside of Domino's?

"I am very actively involved in the community and I am proud to be a Rotarian. Rotary has helped me channel my efforts of community service along with an organisation that does incredible things for our island; particularly for the youth. I also am a big supporter of and volunteer for Animal Welfare Foundation along with many sport teams/leagues."

Where do you see yourself and Domino's in ten years?

"I will retire being a part of Domino's. I have such a passion, love and loyalty for the brand. As my children are getting older and in four years my daughter will graduate high school; we will see where that takes us. We have such a great team and I hope to always continue to provide opportunities for growth for them."

What is your dream holiday venue?

"I love skiing. Don't get to do too much of it since we live here; but going on a ski holiday is by far my favourite. It doesn't matter where; so long as there is great snow."

Hobbies?

"I'm a bit of a geek and a gadget guy. I like photography and love taking photos of my family as we go through life together."

Pet peeve?

"When people state the obvious. Like when you have a flat tire and you are on the ground fixing it and someone walks up and asks - "tire flat?"

Philosophy on life?

"Lead by example."

Favourite quote?

"The best way to make a small fortune in the Caribbean is to start with a large one."

What's your favourite type of music – which artistes do you listen to?

"Mostly today's country music and alternative rock. My favourite artist would have to be Train. I really wish there was a radio station that has Country music as a format here in St. Maarten."

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party who would they be and what would you cook for them?

"My dad, my mom and my sister, as I don't get to see any of them very often since I live down here. The obvious answer is that we are having pizza for dinner."