When her kitchen manager walked out in the middle of a shift one fine Sunday five years ago, Angela Caputo could have taken his words to heart that her business would crumble without him.
Luckily for Sault Ste. Marie residents and visitors, Caputo steadfastly believed in herself, her staff, her business, and her community. As with every setback she’s faced, the owner-operator of The Breakfast Pig Badass Eatery adapted, learned, and got better. Her entrepreneurship journey centres on believing in herself, putting in the hours, being agile, being true to her vision, and supporting the community that supports her.
Caputo was no stranger to entrepreneurship, as her parents own their own business. She grew up watching the hours her father put in doing construction during the day and quoting prospective jobs in the evening. She saw her mother handle the administration of the business. Her brother Paul is also a successful entrepreneur.
“When you see your family succeeding in small businesses, it makes owning your own business more of a reality,” said Caputo. “I knew that I could run a business, too, and my brother Frank believed in my ideas, and maybe wanted me out of his basement, and loaned me $15,000 to start 'The Pig.' Even when people didn’t believe in me or The Pig, I used that as fuel to make me succeed."
As is common with many entrepreneurs, Caputo’s business is never far from her thoughts.
“I work hard and expect a lot from my staff, but I expect more from myself,” said Caputo, who oversaw the front of house and then also mastered running the line. “I felt that I needed to understand every facet of my business, and that takes time. The secret to success is to start something you believe in and do it wholeheartedly.”
The Pig has been packing in customers into their Bruce Street location for their creative savoury and sweet breakfast and lunch dishes since 2015.
Most recently, Caputo added local fish fry dinners to the menu, as she was looking to keep more staff working during COVID lockdowns. She knew it was time to “adapt or close.” Caputo chose to adapt.
She felt a bit hopeless when COVID lockdowns began, so she put her energy into being part of the solution. She created the Feed the Kids program, partnering with the John Howard Society to deliver over 3,000 meals to kids facing food insecurity locally. She kept as much of her kitchen staff working as possible.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and stress: I didn’t want local kids going hungry, and I didn’t want my staff out of work,” said Caputo.
“Over the years, I’ve worked hard to create a family-like team and didn’t want any of my restaurant family going without. So I kept them, and needed to find ways to keep them busy. With all the government indecision, I had to play the long game. When you are responsible for peoples’ lives, you need to be able to plan ahead and need strong leadership from government.”
Driven, persistent, passionate, and community-oriented, Caputo enjoys being able to execute on her vision as a sustainable local business.
"We made it our mission to buy things as locally as possible; partnering with local businesses so that everyone wins, it’s not a competition – we can all win,” said Caputo. “We use Home BBNB for our bread, Maple Acres Farm’s Jams, Irwin’s Maple Syrup, Bruni’s fine foods for Ontario pasture-raised pork, and Agawa Fisheries for fish products.”
Even the business name was important for Caputo in terms of getting her message across. Some naysayers told her that people don’t want to think about a pig before they eat bacon or sausage, but she disagreed.
“Sustainability and buying local are buzzwords for many places, but for me it is a core belief and it shines through when you really believe in something. I wanted to bring people to their roots with food. I want them to think of pigs, and respect animals, because if they do, we’ll see better things happening in the world, with less cruelty.”
Sometimes she refers to The Pig as her soapbox, and has been honoured that people seek out her opinion on local matters. She has been able to add her voice to local social justice movements from supporting Black Lives Matter to denouncing COVID antivaxxers. She hasn’t ruled out politics, but for now she prefers to be on the frontlines as an entrepreneur, directly bolstering the local economy by keeping her business and partnerships in the North.
Caputo’s entrepreneurship journey started as a youth capitalizing on the need for her babysitting services in her neighbourhood, then acting as a referee for soccer, all before she was a teenager.
From there she held a number of retail jobs, and then restaurant and bar jobs, before taking over a local bar and grill establishment at age 26, along with another coworker, from Boomer and Dom Braido, while she was still a server. She also dabbled with a career as a teacher and was sidelined from becoming a police officer due to an injury.
When asked who her mentors are, Caputo lists her parents and the Braidos for inspiring her and helping her to become who she is today. She also is thankful for having her brother Paul as a business confidante, and admires that he doesn’t take no for an answer. Even the shorter stints on her résumé were important to her.
“I learned from every job I ever had, whether I learned what to do or what not to do for customers, employees, and suppliers,” said Caputo. “It’s thanks to all of them, that after being in the industry for 15 years, I realized that I was tired of making everyone else money and wanted to give it a shot for myself.”
Caputo loves the Sault, and Northern Ontario, and sees a lot of untapped potential for the area.
"My goal is to make The Pig successful, but I want other local businesses to succeed as well, to make the North as strong as possible,” said Caputo.
She hopes that clean, sustainable small businesses will get more support from all levels of government.
“Governments chase big industry, but they forget that we keep our money here when we invest and support local small businesses, and we don’t harm the environment, and small businesses attract tourists.”
With her signature red curly hair, Caputo is a true fireball, and one to watch. She’s been honoured for her creative use of ingredients and recipes, given awards for her community support and for being a young entrepreneur, and all of this after only six years in business.
“I appreciate the awards, but the true honour is being called a strong female role model,” she said.
“That I take very seriously, and I want women to know that if you work hard, are always learning, believe in yourself and your vision, and are an active part of the community, then you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Women Leaders in Business is a series of monthly articles profiling women entrepreneurs and leaders who are making their mark in Northern Ontario and are contributing to the betterment of their community's and this region's economy.