Bringing people together

Al Casapulla’s Subs, Steaks & Pizza is well known for its award-winning sandwiches and other ambrosial Italian fare. But on Monday nights, the Millville deli adopts the flavor of Eastern Europe.
Coastal Point • JOSH MILLER: Al Casapulla (second from left) stands with some international students who work in his restaurant.Coastal Point • JOSH MILLER:
Al Casapulla (second from left) stands with some international students who work in his restaurant.

Al Casapulla opens every workweek by opening his doors to the area’s visiting international students. From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., his restaurant serves those summer guests pizza, beverages and an excuse to mingle.

“I just think it’s good because they come here and work hard,” Casapulla said. “This shows appreciation. It shows Americans are good people. We care. We’re here to help them.”

The Peninsula Community Church in Frankford, where Casapulla is a parishioner, entreated the restaurateur to begin the tradition last summer. The crescendoing popularity of the weekly parties prompted Casapulla to continue the custom this year.

So, two weeks ago, when the international passport crowd received welcome baskets that the church prepared and circulated with cooperation from local business owners, the students found invitations alongside chocolates and Bible CDs.

After that initial summons, Casapulla and his fellow churchgoers said, word-of-mouth ensured news of the event would permeate the local international network. So, last Monday, for the second consecutive week, bicycles — a surefire sign that Eastern Europeans were close at hand — lined Casapulla’s storefront window.

The first foreign students began wandering in at 9:20 p.m. Staggering their arrivals, the revelers appeared in twos, threes and fours, and commandeered booths. Most wore nametags that they had saved from the first Monday-night soiree. The others drafted new placards at the behest of Pat Benton, a Peninsula parishioner and greeter for the evening.

“It’s special to me because these young people are the cream of the crop. They’re interesting, outgoing and smart,” Benton said. “I just love people and this is just a wonderful opportunity to interact with people I otherwise would not. It broadens your appreciation.”

While brilliant bolts of lightening illuminated the night sky outside, chatting between Albanians, Belarusian, Bulgarians, Romanians, Russians, Polish and their American hosts — underscored by light rock music seeping through the sound system — brightened the ambience inside. Only pizza and soda pop could temporarily quell the conversation.

“The best thing about this night is all of the foreign students come together and get to know each other better,” said Ciprian Antaloae from Piatra Neamt, Romania. “It’s great for us. We are away from home. It makes you feel welcome.”

After coming to Casapulla’s by bike the week before, Antaloae traveled by bus, along with seven others students, last Monday. Chris Caton and Phil Johnson of Sea Colony chauffeured the vehicle.

“All international students would like to thank them,” Antaloae said of their hosts. “They’re great to us.”

As the night wound down, the students were cautioned to be careful on their way home. Those on two wheels were advised to make themselves more visible by wearing white or reflectors.

“We read in the newspapers that many accidents happen. It’s very sad. You think it could be me,” said Yavor Krustev of Sofia, Bulgaria. “So it’s nice to hear that they care.”

The church also invited everyone back for the next week, encouraging the students to bring friends, and announced a September bus trip for internationals to Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia.

As for Casapulla, he may be arranging some travel plans of his own.

“I’m going to go to Europe and visit them,” he said. “If it weren’t for the long flight, then I’d have been there already.”