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Flat Breads Cafe Serves Sandwiches and Jesuit Values

The Jesuit values that are a hallmark of Boston College extend beyond the bounds of campus. Just across the street from Lower Campus, John Acampora has made it his mission over the past 30 years to serve and care for the community, while also feeding hungry BC students. 

Acampora has owned Flat Breads Cafe for almost 30 years, but his younger self could not have imagined running a restaurant, he said. His career path brought him from the Bronx to having a high-powered career in the hotel industry, to being a full-time caretaker for his son, before he wound up manning the sandwich shop. One thing has stayed constant—his devotion to serving others.

Many BC students who have passed through campus in the past 30 years are familiar with Acampora, who has given them more than just a hearty meal by striking up conversations, forming relationships, and providing care for the community.

Acampora said he attributes much of who he is to his upbringing in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. 

“The Bronx has always been home base for me for a myriad of reasons,” Acampora said. “I was born into a loving and supportive Italian-American family, which is something that I look back on with pride. It’s the ground point of my personal and religious foundation.”

Acampora’s Catholic faith has always been central to his identity, he said. After spending his formative years at St. Margaret of Cortona Church, a Catholic parish, Acampora received a Jesuit education at Fordham Preparatory School and later at Fordham University, where he studied business. 

After his graduation from Fordham University, Acampora had no plans of entering the food service industry, he said. 

Acampora’s long and winding career path began with him rejecting the opportunity to work on Wall Street after college, and instead choosing to work in the hotel business. After six months of working at the front desk of the New York Hilton Midtown, which had just opened at the time he started working there, Acampora was asked to attend Hilton’s executive training program in Chicago, he said. From there, Acampora worked in cities all over the United States in a managerial capacity, eventually becoming the youngest corporate vice president for Hilton. 

Acampora’s achievements were not overlooked—Sheraton soon made him an irrefutable offer to work in Boston, he said. With his wife and four children, Acampora moved to Weston, Mass. to pursue the opportunity.

“It was my dream job,” Acampora said. “I brought a sense of order to chaos at Sheraton, which was a really great opportunity for me.”

After 27 years in the hotel industry, Acampora’s career path took a sharp turn.

When his son got into a serious car accident on his way home from college, Acampora embarked upon a six-year journey of supporting his son through 15 major surgeries.

“Through that six-year period, I left my job,” Acampora said. “There was really no reason for me to work—it was important that I be with my family and tend to my son’s needs on a day-to-day basis.”

When Acampora eventually returned to the workforce, he ventured into new territory, and Flat Breads Cafe was born. 

“I was back to square one,” Acampora said. “But I saw BC as an opportunity. That nice little shop was open, and we took it over.” 

Getting Flat Breads up and running was pretty simple—a “no-brainer,” he said. After renovating the space and putting a functional operating system into place, Flat Breads was open in three months. While the business has been modified over the years, Acampora said that it still exists in its original mold almost 30 years later. 

“Flat Breads is not just a sandwich business,” Acampora said. “For me, it’s a way of life. It has given me the distinct opportunity to give back.”

His drive to give back has not gone unnoticed. 

“Every time I go into Flat Breads, it’s a conversation with John,” John DeAngelis, a fellow Fordham Prep alum and CSOM ’23, said. “We always talk about Fordham Prep, and once the pandemic dies down, John wants to take us Fordham Prep guys out to dinner. He’s just a very kind man.”

DeAngelis is a Flat Breads regular, eating there about once a week, he said. 

Beyond his relationships with BC students—whom Acampora said he looks at as if they’re his own children—Acampora has gone out of his way to support the underprivileged community of the greater Boston area.

Years ago, Acampora and his wife befriended a man in and out of homelessness named Charlie, who sold newspapers at the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola on campus every Sunday. At the end of the day every Sunday, Charlie would exchange the change that he had earned for paper bills at Flat Breads—along with a sandwich. Acampora eventually ended up paying Charlie’s $90 weekly rent, he said, for which Charlie was grateful.

More than a decade later, in 2020, Acampora befriended a homeless woman named Lauren. He encouraged Lauren to move off the streets and into a shelter downtown, giving her a $20 bill each time she left Flat Breads. Recently, Acampora discovered that, because of his support, Lauren was able to travel and return to her family in Iowa. 

“As an 80-year-old man, I feel eminently fulfilled in that I’m living my Catholic mission in that shop,” Acampora said. “I’m living the traditions of St. Ignatius there.”

Like many other small businesses, Flat Breads closed for six months at the onset of COVID-19. Not only did the absence of students significantly decrease spring walk-in customers, but also Flat Breads’ catering business ceased because of the pandemic, Acampora said. 

“We needed to take drastic action, and we closed in early 2020,” Acampora said. “What rainy day funds we had were quickly absorbed, and we had to let people go. It was difficult.”

Around that time, Acampora organized a GoFundMe page, asking for the support of the BC and broader Newton communities. The outpouring of support, Acampora said, was humbling. 

“A collection of local people, and mostly students, chimed in to help us out,” Acampora said. “There were even people who had graduated from BC 10 and 12 years ago that chimed in.”

Acampora had never realized the impact that Flat Breads has had on its customers, he said. 

“BC has a lot of staple restaurants, and Flat Breads is definitely one of them,” DeAngelis said. “It’s a homey environment, and it’s a nice place to be when you’re studying away from home.”

Paige Nixon, MCAS ’24, visited Flat Breads for the first time on her first BC “game day.” Although game days looked different during the COVID-19 pandemic, because spectators were not permitted in Alumni Stadium, Flat Breads remained a popular Saturday spot for students. 

“The first time I went to Flat Breads, it was the first football game of 2020,” Nixon said. “There were tons of people picking up orders, and since we couldn’t attend the game or do anything associated with it, I thought it was really meaningful that all of the BC students went to Flat Breads to get their food for the game.”

Acampora said that Flat Breads received over 1,100 calls, emails, and cards in early 2020, saying that they missed it and asking when it would reopen. 

“Therein lies the phenomenon of Flat Breads—people feel that they own a piece of us and that we serve our customers in the best of all traditions,” Acampora said. “I think that sustains us.”

 Photos by Sarah West / For The Heights

April 11, 2021