He looks down at his workspace behind the counter for a moment—reminding himself of the order—and then his hands know where they are going, rapidly pulling a pita wrap from a rack, layering it with meats and cheeses, rifling through clear containers for the finishing ingredients, rolling it together with scurrying fingers, and handing the wrap to John Acampora, the eatery’s 72-year-old owner, a gregarious Italian-American man with a penchant for kindly reaching out and touching people’s arms when he wants to make a connection with them.
Acampora places the wrap in a white bag, labeling it in his neat, penciled cursive with the name of the order.
On Thursday, a regular customer walked in—Acampora automatically told Recinos the man’s usual order, and smiled. “Now, how did I know that?” he joked.
In the background, Recinos was already halfway done putting it together.
“This guy was all over the place,” Acampora said. “Doing the work of three people.”
Originally from Guatemala, Recinos had saved money for years to make his way to the States. Acampora himself grew up understanding how difficult it can be to immigrate, having shared a bedroom with his immigrant grandfather in the Bronx.
“He always used to tell me, ‘If there’s anything you can do in life, it’s help people like me,’” Acampora said.
One of the proudest days of Acampora’s life was watching Recinos become an American citizen from the balcony in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall, the young man with dark black hair amid a sea of people roaring in joy and waving American flags.
Acampora found himself wishing his children could be there to witness the great display of pride that is often not exhibited by those born on American soil.
Flat Breads itself, meanwhile, seems almost to have been born of America’s deepest nostalgic dream—a small business with a black and white checkered floor, fresh fruits cradled in white bowls, bags of chips presented neatly on racks in the window.
Although Acampora spent 27 years working in the corporate world, he has an old-fashioned touch that translates well to the intimate establishment, where customers are treated like friends, old and new.
“I don’t know what we would do if you guys didn’t come in here,” Acampora told one customer as he gave her lunch on Thursday.
Recinos is equally engaging—whenever a customer asks how his day is going, his hands could just as easily express his smiling response: “Busy, busy.”
Each day, Recinos gives Acampora an update about the store and subsequently documents his observations. When Acampora could not work for a few months, Recinos ran the store on his own.
“This place ran like a well-oiled machine,” Acampora said.
Should business ever be slow, however, the two men turn to what they always do—their deep faith. A product of a Jesuit education at Fordham University, Acampora said that faith carried him through troubled times, and both men frequently allude to God in their language.
During a couple weeks of slow business, Acampora was leaving work, saying a customary prayer to himself, asking God to make the next day a better one. He was headed to his car when Recinos dashed out of the cafe, saying there was a phone call—a catering order had just come in for $4,000.
Some would call it coincidence, but, in that moment, these two men knew better.
“That’s the hand of God,” Recinos said.
Once in the States, he went to a music store, where a salesman let him try out a few different saxophones—but Recinos could barely produce a sound with any of them.
“You’re wasting my time,” Recinos recalled the salesman telling him. “Go buy one of the used ones.”
But Recinos was persistent, and he purchased one of the good ones anyway. Now, if someone shows him what note he or she is playing on a piano or another instrument, he can easily replicate it on the saxophone.
Acampora, meanwhile, laughs at his own musical ineptitude: “I couldn’t play an accordion with the one thousand dollar instrument my father bought me—I was tone deaf.”
Recinos cannot say how he does it. When he tries to explain, he starts with words, but then moves his hand up and down his torso, as if searching for the right ingredient on one of the counters at Flat Breads. The meaning is clear.
He just feels it.
Featured Image by Emily Sadeghian / Heights Editor