Walking into this Oak Park diner, you see a distinguished man with papers spread out around him. He’s talking to a man standing over the table as if the guest were paying homage. A handshake accompanies a warm smile while the next person waits to say hello. That person would be this journalist.
“Hi, Gabe,” I say with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Hey, Lis,” Gabe Caporale says. “How’s ma?”
Gabriel James Caporale’s grandparents emigrated from Italy in the 1900s. His parents, who met in Illinois, moved to Elmwood Park in 1963 where he has remained ever since.
“That was a great… ‘Hey, how you doing?'” Caporale’s memory is interrupted by a regular waving hello.
The diner is the Onion Roll in Oak Park. This legendary establishment has been frequented by old-school Italians for decades.
The Onion Roll is where you will find the 63-year-old Caporale just about every weekday morning.
Another interruption. “Gabe, you want oatmeal?” asks the waitress already knowing his order.
Full disclosure: My cousin Eugene is one of the regulars and a friend of Caporale’s, and “ma,” as Caporale referred to her, has been friends with Gabe for more than 40 years.
Caporale launched his real estate career with DeMoon Realty in 1971.
“I started at age 21, and in the 12 years I worked for Mr. DeMoon, I was the top sales person every year,” recalls Caporale. “He was like a father to me.”
Realty wasn’t the only thing that interested him at DeMoon’s office.
“I met my wife at the office,” adds Caporale. “She was taking a real estate…” Caporale stops to answer his iPhone. “Yeah, hello?”
The diner chatter continues, and Caporale finishes his call. “I’m sorry,” says Caporale. “Where were we? So anyway, in 1983 I decided to open my own office. I was so scared to tell Mr. DeMoon, and when I did, I started crying. I left on very good terms, and we remained friends until he died last year.”
Caporale is now celebrating 30 years of being in his own business. Smart business decisions and loyalty have always kept Caporale in the game. Some of his agents have been with Caporale him for more than 25 years.
There is no question that Caporale loves Elmwood Park, and the love from the community is reciprocal. He is the past recipient of the Elmwood Park Community Leader of the Year Award; a trustee on the Elmwood Park Library Board; treasurer of the Elmbrook Senior Residence; member of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus; and past president of the Mont Clare Elmwood Park Lions Club, the Mont Clare Elmwood Park Chamber of Commerce and Columbian Club of Chicago.
The check comes to the table, and a squabble breaks out. Caporale wins with a chuckle.
“I’m a morning person,” adds Caporale. “I plan my day here and get going. I have to be on the street meeting people. I like to be involved. My cell phone is constantly ringing. Service is the key.”
Caporale waves goodbye to someone leaving the restaurant.
“I don’t want to retire,” Caporale concludes. “I couldn’t just sit home. You have to percolate.” Just like the coffee continues to do every morning at the Onion Roll.