“I’d rather live a day as a lion than 100 as a sheep,” was the mantra of Mike Greco, the famous owner and chef of Mike’s Deli in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. He lived 89 years as the lion of Arthur Avenue, passing away on Wednesday, March 20.
It’s a bit ironic that a self-confessed playboy only made his way to America in 1947 after being kicked out of a seminary in Calabira, Italy.
“He was the definition of the American Dream,” said David Greco, Mike’s son and current operator of the renowned deli. “He came here and wanted to be American,” Dave also mentioned.
That dream became reality in the Bronx during the 1960s, when the deli just started coming into its own.
Mike prided his eatery on the quality of its product (especially the fresh mozzarella), to the extent of making personal deliveries into Manhattan.
“Everyone can buy the same thing around here, it was his outgoingness and his service that made the deli standout,” Dave said, noting that his dad’s blue eyes certainly helped in winning customers over along with hopping onto tables, even at age 85.
“He lived to entertain,” Dave said.
Mike’s outgoingness came in part from an interest in filmmaking and acting, which he had put aside to provide for his family.
That didn’t stop him from making a cameo appearance as painter in the film ‘Six Degrees of Separation,’ though.
As a matter of fact, Mike even made the crew stop filming to have director Fred Schepisi change his line to a more authentic Italian phrase, according to Dave.
“If you didn’t meet my father you missed out,” Dave said.
Like Frank Sinatra, Mike Greco did things his own way and it certainly showed. Whether it was starting his day at 7 a.m. with a piece of prosciutto and glass of cognac, to plenty of other escapades, there truly was nobody else like him. That’s why chefs like Emeril Lagasse and many other celebrities know Mike’s Deli as their ‘go to’ spot in the Bronx.
After Mike’s passing, famous Bronx actor and lifelong friend Chazz Palmenteri was one of literally hundreds to come by the retail market, to pay his respects to Dave and the rest of the Greco family.
As a matter of fact, well know Msgr. Hilary Franco presided over Mike’s funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church on Tuesday, March 26.
They met at the seminary in Italy.
Rest in peace Mike, Arthur Avenue won’t be the same without you.