When the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellations of in-person events, Carlo Capua was getting phone call after phone call hurting his catering business — until he decided enough was enough.
He closed his catering business, Z’s Cafe, and shifted to The Meeting Squad, which helped clients move their in-person events to virtual or a hybrid mode.
It spurred an enterprise that led him down a path connecting him to leaders all over the city and becoming a more established leader himself.
He knew there had to be a way around events being canceled and the trickle-down effect those cancellations caused — if the American Cancer Society couldn’t have its regular gala, it didn’t raise all the funds it needed, affecting patient care, for example.
The Meeting Squad helped put on contests, fundraisers and all kinds of other events.
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His decision to start a virtual events company wasn’t planned, but his journey is full of more calculated steps.
It started when he met a Japanese student in high school. Capua, now 43, became interested in studying Japanese and minored in the language at Texas Christian University.
After graduation in 2000, Capua went to teach English in Japan at one of Fort Worth’s sister cities, Nagaoka.
“One year turned into two, into three, into four years, and I just fell in love with teaching the kids, working with the kids, the culture, the language was awesome,” Capua said. “It just unlocked this whole burning interest in global affairs.”
Japan is clean, has little poverty, drastically less gun violence and essentially is a “modern-day utopia,” he said. Although Capua enjoyed his time in Japan, he said, it was not a full reflection of the world.
So, his next stop was Mexico.
Capua went to another of Fort Worth’s sister cities, Toluca, in Mexico for three years.
“Everything that Japan didn’t have, Mexico did, Capua said. “It was just this awesome comparison of two really wonderful cultures and wonderful people both on different ends of the spectrum.”
But Capua had been away for seven years, and he missed his home and family. So, he came back and started his catering business with his mother.
With fresh memories of poverty in Mexico, Capua partnered with Samaritan House to help low-income men and women get jobs on the catering staff.
His work has helped him rise as a leader in Fort Worth. He became involved in the community in many areas, including serving on the board of the United Way of Tarrant County. Leah King, CEO and president of the nonprofit, said Capua is well-known in Fort Worth for his leadership.
“I see him as an inquisitive leader, so someone who is seeking to learn and understand a lot about people, about gaps in services within the community, about racial disparities,” King said. “I see him as someone who is very culturally savvy, yet curious, who’s willing to dive in wherever a helping hand might be needed.”
Capua is the chair of the United Way’s diversity committee, and King said he brings people together to see that, even though they are different, there are so many similarities in people. He is willing to lead and learn, she said.
“I see him frequently with leaders of all stripes, those that have been around for a while, but those who are up and coming,” King said. “And he’s very willing to share his time with you know with any one of those audiences.”
Capua is the past president of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth, and he believes a good leader can motivate, inspire, encourage and believe in others.
“A good leader also looks at folks who have been historically marginalized or underserved and brings them along and helps level the playing field for everyone,” Capua said. “I think that’s a really important characteristic of a leader.”
During his year as president of the downtown Rotary Club, Capua said he worked to highlight minority-owned businesses. To do this, the club started a Minority Business Award contest to allow businesses to apply and be highlighted with the club.
“It’s an attempt to sort of level the playing field and create a little more equity in our business community, which then creates more equity in our community at large,” he said.
Capua remains involved in Sister Cities of Fort Worth. Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth, said Sister Cities is how he met Carlo, and he has known him for about 20 years.
He described Capua as a creative thinker with a broad vision when it comes to different projects and ventures he takes on.
As he reflects on his own leadership efforts, Capua said the new generation of Fort Worth leaders “stand on the shoulders of giants” who came before them.
“I think it’s exciting and I think the generation after us is saying, ‘It’s time for you all to take the torch, and go,’” he said. “And in a lot of cities, the younger folks have to wrestle the torch out of the hands of the older generation. Here, I think we’re getting a running start, and that makes me really excited to see.
“And that sends a very important message: You don’t have to be old, or retired, or independently wealthy, or a white male to take a leadership position in this community,” Capua said.
As Fort Worth grows, Jameson said, it is both exciting and challenging as the city adapts to that growth.
“I think having this next generation or two stepping into leadership roles is really critical because the decisions that we make will be theirs to live with,” he said. “They absolutely should be part of the development of solutions or strategies in order to make sure that Fort Worth really achieves its potential.”
Capua hopes to see the leaders of the city focus on equity, such as equal pay for women and poverty.
“It’s important for us to really take a step back and say, ‘OK, what’s a problem and what’s a symptom? Is poverty the problem or the symptom?’” he said. “I think poverty is a symptom. Poverty is a primary symptom of not enough fair wage paying jobs for people and not enough business owners who will take a chance hiring folks who come from non-traditional backgrounds.”
Some of those backgrounds include people who have been incarcerated or homeless, Capua said, adding he hired workers with these pasts at Z’s Cafe.
To start solving these problems, Capua said, the first step is to listen.
“How do we listen with purpose and listen empathetically to really understand that just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist?” he said. “I think that’s the overarching theme: A lot of things we don’t see that are problems or challenges for people who don’t look like us, so therefore they don’t exist. To really listen empathetically, and that kind of empathetic leadership with compassion, I think will continue to change the face of the city — I hope.”
Carlo Capua Bio
Family: wife Rachel Capua, EdD; parents Janet and Carl Capua Sr.; sister Maria Capua, brother-in-law Brandon Teague and nieces Annabella and Siena Teague.
Education: Saint Andrew Catholic School through eighth grade, Western Hills High School, bachelor’s degree in marketing and minor in Japanese from TCU in 2000, and working on a master’s in international relations from Harvard University.
Work experience: Language teacher (in Nagaoka, Japan for four years, in Mexico at Tec de Monterrey in Toluca, Mexico for three years), co-owner of Z’s Café, president of The Meeting Squad virtual events company, co-owner of Locavore Event venue and Kitchen Rental business
Volunteer experience: Sister Cities, United Way, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Steer Fort Worth, Texas Health Resources
First job: Busboy at Steak & Ale off the Weatherford traffic circle
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Just because you might not see something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Best advice ever received: I would rather attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.