Our family history in the Belmont community started with our maternal grandparents who migrated from Naples to America in 1919. Nonno (Grandfather) Gennaro was from the heart of Naples and Nonnabella, as we called our grandmother, was from Nola (home of the Giglio Festival or Festival Of The Dancing Towers). They originally settled in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn. However, they were encouraged to move to the Bronx where it was considered to be country and “l’aria era piu fresca” (the air was fresher) as our grandmother would say. (At that time, The Arthur Avenue Retail Market was originally a sheep meadow.) Our grandfather, who was a butcher, carried his trade and in 1922 opened his first shop on Arthur Avenue. Grandpa was successful and had a number of shops. The family lived in an apartment, where else but over one of the stores. Our grandparents were the original butchers in the new indoor market that Mayor LaGuardia built in 1940.
One sure reason for Grandpa Gennaro’s success was Nonnabella. Nonnabella was as amazingly strong and determined as she was gentle and kind-hearted. Widowed at age 40, she ran the store with her sons, made lunch for all the workers each day and managed to raise five children. We’ve been told that she would let the original pushcart vendors run electric heater cords into her store but had to limit them to only one at a time because of the fuses blowing.
Through the years, some original pushcart families have also told us many wonderful stories, including her generosity in preparing bags of fresh meat and eggs that she would pass out on Saturday nights to especially needy families. On the day of her funeral, in 1986, as the hearse drove down Arthur Avenue, we can remember the emotional reaction of shopkeepers who came out, with their hats held to their chest, in her honor. It was that day, that we realized she was not only very special to us, her grandchildren.
In the meantime, at the turn of the century, our paternal grandfather, Luigi, began making trips to America from northern Calabria. This grandfather started visiting America in1895. He continued living between America and Italy, working in the bar/restaurant business for the next forty years.
He became an American citizen, but never “settled” in America. His wife back in Calabria, Nonna Luisa, was busy raising six children on a farm and was not interested in leaving family or the beautiful Provincia di Cosenza.
We fast-forward to 1947, when at age 17 Mike (along with his twin brother, Joe), leave Calabria and migrate to New York. They leave with only one hundred dollars each, their good looks, two new suits each and strong work ethics. Mike finds work in our grandfather Gennaro’s grocery store on Arthur Avenue. In 1951, he marries the bosses’ only daughter, the lovely Antoinetta or Donetta (who today, can still hit a high C when singing Torná Surriento). Mike decides it is best to do something on his own and ventures into the Arthur Avenue Retail Market where, with Mike’s presence, the Market would never be the same. Mike and Antoinette start their own family, having four children.
The family’s excellent reputation has been built by Mike’s extraordinary hard work and commitment to freshness and quality, and has become nationally recognized. On any given day you will see fresh mozzarella being stretched and shaped into twists or rounds, hanging from dowels to dry. Or perhaps it will be a day when Mike, breaks into an aria in a strong clear voice that at once identifies him as a Puccini aficionado.
Mike & David Greco
Arthur Avenue Italian Deli