The Whitestone community is mourning the loss of a longtime neighborhood resident who befriended everyone with his infectious laughter, love and kindness.
Mario Polito, 44, of Tony’s Beechhurst Deli, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on Saturday, Jan. 29. Polito is survived by his wife, Tania Carucci-Polito, and his 7-year-old daughter, Gianna Marie.
Angelo Polito remembered his older brother as a kind person who loved everyone.
“People loved him. He was one of those guys who was always happy, having a good time, and trying to help people whenever he could,” Polito said. “Any kid loved him, and Mario was friends with everyone, no matter where they were from.”
At Tony’s Beechhurst Deli, located at 11-18 154th St., Polito and his family have been serving Italian deli food like no other for the past 30 years. His Italian-born parents, Emilio and Josephine, worked tirelessly to make Tony’s into the neighborhood staple that it is today, along with their three sons — Tommy, Mario and Angelo — who all work in the deli.
According to Alfredo Molinari, a longtime friend of Polito, anyone that walked into the deli knew the family, especially Mario, who knew everyone’s name and made 10 sandwiches at a time.
“The whole family is wonderful, and Mario, he’s an icon — the way he talks. He’s amazing, and was like a big firecracker. He loved everyone,” Molinari said.
Paul Anteri, another longtime friend of Polito, remembered Mario as a great brother and father.
“My kids would go to Tony’s and they’d see Mario. He looked out for them. His smile was infectious and he made everyone feel like family. It was easy to fall in love with him,” Anteri said. “It’s just important to remember that he’s a staple in the community. Everywhere he went, everyone knew Mario. He had a very strong exterior, but a soft interior.”
In honor of their late friend, Molinari and Anteri launched a GoFundMe campaign two days ago to give back to Polito’s daughter, Gianna Marie, for her college education.
According to Molinari and Anteri, their goal was to raise $50,000. To date, their campaign has surpassed that goal, raising a total of $70,653.
“I said we gotta do something. He has done so much for all of our children in the neighborhood. We launched the GoFundMe only to give back in some way for his daughter to know how many lives her father impacted in the community, especially for all of the kids. We are giving back for what he’s done for us and all of the families,” Molinari said.
Molinari added, “Mario will be loved and missed. We are all grateful and thankful for having him in our lives. I’m so glad I was able to meet him at such a young age and watch him grow and continue to be the person he always was and never changed. I loved him like a brother. My family and I loved him.”
In memory of Polito, a candlelight vigil was held outside of Tony’s Deli on Tuesday, Feb. 1. A wake will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at Gleason’s Funeral Home, located at 10-25 150th St., from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m.
The funeral will be held on Thursday, Feb. 3, at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s Church, located at 16-34 Clintonville St.