Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is known for its authentic, old style, Italian restaurants. Generations of Italian families have given Bronx’s Little Italy a special small-town character. This year, Mario’s Restaurant, an Arthur Avenue staple, will celebrate the centennial anniversary of its opening. Today, the restaurant is owned by Joseph Migliucci, the fourth generation of his family to run the restaurant. The business was originally a pizza shop opened by his great grandmother, Scolastica Migliucci and her son, Giuseppe in 1919.
The restaurant has changed a lot in the past 100 years, but much has stayed the same. What started out as a humble, six table pizza shop can now serve up to 400 people a day. All of the original menu items are still made fresh daily, according to their traditional recipe, but Migliucci loves to reinvent and add new dishes. “I love the filetto di pomodoro, salsa alla pomodoro, the broccoli with Italian sausage, everything, everything,” said Migliucci.
Much of the restaurant’s interior has been kept the same since the 1940s
Inside the restaurant, the walls are decorated with family memorabilia and photos. Paintings of Italy done by Migliucci’s uncle at least fifty years ago are displayed on either side of the dining room. Much of the interior has been kept the same since the 1940s. Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping into the past. “Just like the old days,” Migliucci says.
Mario’s Restaurant, which started as a six-table pizza shop, now seats up to 400 people including a back dining room
So, what makes Mario’s different from other Arthur Avenue restaurants? It is a five generation, family owned business, through and through. When customers come into the restaurant, Migliucci wants them to feel like they are coming home. “We treat them like family when they come, like they’re coming into our home,” Migliucci said.
When Migliucci’s father, Mario, was a boy, he spent many hours in the pizzeria. After school, friends would often say, “Let’s go to Mario’s”, and the name stuck.
Mario was able to skyrocket the restaurant’s popularity as the owner. Mario’s Restaurant gained such a good reputation that, in 1971, director Francis Ford Coppola wanted a scene from his new movie The Godfather to be shot there. Mario turned down the offer, as he did not want his wholesome family restaurant to be associated with murder and the mob.
Joseph Migliucci learned to cook from his uncle Clemente who ran the kitchen for years alongside Migliucci’s father. Mario Migliucci tried everything he could to discourage his son from going into the business. He made him mop floors, wash dishes and work long hours, but Joseph couldn’t stay away. “Nothing fazed me. Now, I can do everything,” Mario said. When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Migliucci replies, “Everything. I like being here and being with people and talking to them.”
There’s an old saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. “I like this one better, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Migliucci says with a laugh.
For more information about Little Italy in the Bronx, check out The Top 10 Secrets of The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue and A Guide to the Bakeries and Pastry Shops of Belmont, a Little Italy of the Bronx