“I am most passionate about bringing my knowledge [of tasting] to consumers, “said an enthusiastic Orietta Gianjorio, a native Italian from Rome,...
Baking always played a large role in Fernanda Capraro’s childhood in the village of Sant Elia in southern Italy. Her next-door neighbor Angelo played a large role in it as well. When she left Italy and moved to France at age 10, she had no idea that either would play an even larger role in her future: Baking has now become Capraro’s career she shares alongside her husband of 41 years – her former childhood friend, Angelo.
Fernanda and Angelo’s love story began at the happiest place on Earth, of all places – Disneyland – when Fernanda was working as a flight attendant with Italian airline Alitalia and Angelo was working construction in southern California.
“I looked him up and called him up and said, ‘I’m at Disneyland!’ and he came and picked me up…And voila! Here I am,” laughs Capraro.
After Capraro and her husband decided to settle down and start a family, they decided to follow in her family’s tradition and go into the food and beverage industry. They began with liquor stores and gradually worked their way up to delis and eventually opened their own restaurant in Orange County.
“I always had a passion for food,” Capraro said. “Like any good Italian.”
It was while working at her restaurant that Capraro slowly began to revisit another passion of hers: baking. “Out of the restaurant, I started to bake and make the cookies,” she says. “Even at the delis, I would bake cookies and people would come and buy them from me there. At the restaurant, instead of cake, I started offering them cookies and they received them well and I thought, maybe I can just bake cookies for a living! And that’s basically what we did.”
Cookies Con Amore first opened in 2005 after Capraro and her husband relocated to San Diego in order to be closer to their daughter. Capraro is the lead baker, using “traditional, old Italian recipes” and while the company has since expanded to more than 20 employees, “all orders are still baked with love and in small batches at the company’s 8,000 square foot bakery in Vista, California.”
Despite the growing demand for her products, Capraro insists on working with small batches and using the very best ingredients for each order. “Once you start to make huge, huge batches, you start to lose some of the flavoring,” she explains. “Just the way I do it at home, that’s the way I do it here. We use the best of ingredients. We use cage-free eggs, we use organic sugar. Whatever I can use that is the most natural possible; no artificial ingredients for anything. I really try to be as health-conscious as I can.”
Furthering her commitment to health-conscious products, Capraro recently launched an exclusive line of gluten-free cookies: “Glutenettos.” Just because someone has a dietary restriction, she says, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to enjoy a good cookie. She hopes in the future to convert some of her recipes to be entirely organic and non-GMO, she says, but that is an endeavor still in the making.
Capraro says that Cookies Con Amore stands out among the competition because she is “really, really focusing on a specific demographic. I’m not making just a gluten-free cookie; it’s an Italian gluten-free cookie. I’m reproducing the cookies that my paesani cannot enjoy otherwise. I’m doing something for a specific group of gourmet people. It’s not just chocolate chip gluten-free – anyone can make that. I’m making Italian gluten-free, that’s the difference; I’m making a biscotti gluten-free, that’s the difference.
I’m trying to cater to the Italian community – to the European community, I should say – not just the Italian.”
Cookies Con Amore is truly a family affair – Capraro’s son and daughter are actively involved in the business as well – and she hopes that it will become something she can pass down from one generation to the next. Her favorite days are when her grandchildren come to visit her at the factory: “As soon as they get here, they put their caps on and away they go in the factory,” she says. “They all love to come to the factory so they can have the fresh cookies off the rack. Hopefully one of them will be interested in carrying on my love of baking.”
Cookies Con Amore are carried by Whole Foods and several other health food stores and Italian delis throughout northern and southern California.