By Howard Koplowitz
Nancy DeBenedittis was as well-known for her famous mozzarella as her passion for the community, and it showed Sunday as 104th Street by 46th Avenue in Corona was renamed after the late owner of Mama’s Italian deli.
“To honor this section of Corona means we’re taking pride in the contributions this person made in this community,” said City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “And besides she gave us great food.”
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) led the way for the street renaming and said going to Mama’s had been part of her routine as a young girl growing up in the neighborhood.
“It was such an experience knowing her when I grew up,” Ferreras said.
DeBenedittis, affectionately known as Mama, died last year at age 90.
After her husband Frank died in 1985, DeBenedittis and her three daughters continued the business, which is known throughout Queens and is especially a hit with the New York Mets.
A friend of Mama’s who asked not to be named said she was “a landmark in Corona.”
“Even though the neighborhood changed, she stayed here in Corona and that’s what Corona needs,” the friend said. “She was a wonderful woman.”
While most street renamings are nothing more than a few speeches and the unveiling of a sign, the Sunday event involved closing the Corona block for three hours, a performance from the Corona Music Project and an arch of green and white balloons – the colors of the facade at Mama’s.
Daughter Irene DeBenedittis said: “I really don’t know how we could express the feeling” of having the street renamed for her mother.
When Citi Field opened, Mama’s expanded to the ballpark and has two locations at the field.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said thinking about Mama leaves him hungry.
“We’re talking about a special woman who gave to the community and left a legacy,” he said.
City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said meeting Mama was just as much a part of the experience as sampling the store’s olives, mozzarella and sandwiches.
“The family is always so sweet,” he said. “Mama was always nice to my children.”
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) said he used to eat at the Corona store when he was an assistant district attorney.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for what Mama has done,” he said.
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Jackson Heights) said when he worked for the city Sanitation Department, senior Sanitation workers would send their less experienced colleagues to get food for them at Mama’s.
“This is a place where working men and women come to get lunch,” he said. “This was the best sandwich and the best love you’re going to get.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.