“I had a good run,” said Luca Miceli, standing behind the counter of his pizzeria, which was set to close the following day. “Lots of good times, friends that I meet. . . . Now it comes to an end.”
He turned to take the order of Joel Fernandez, a regular for the last seven years — a chicken parmigiana hero to go.
Miceli, 60, grew up in Sicily, and later emigrated to Brooklyn. He came to Rockville Centre to open a business with his brother in 1982, opening Miceli Brothers Pizza at 264 Sunrise Highway. He moved to 19 N. Park Ave. in 1992, and his eatery, now called Mr. Miceli Pizza, has since become a cornerstone in the community.
Before coming to the village, he said, he knew nothing about it. “I look at the houses, I look at the cars, and I liked it,” he recalled with his signature smile. He had tried various jobs, like painting and driving, but said he wanted to deal with people and be his own boss.
“It’s long hours,” Miceli said with a rich Sicilian accent. “You have to work every weekend.” He paused and shrugged as he retrieved an order from the oven. “I don’t mind.”
Fernandez said he enjoyed the shop’s pepperoni and chicken rolls — and garlic knots with cheese, a special order not on the menu — but that wasn’t the only reason he has kept returning to the eatery. “I come to Mr. Miceli because I know he’s personable,” he said. “You go to any other pizza shop, you’re just ordering pizza. But Mr. Miceli . . . it’s somebody you know.”
Gene Papetti, an employee for the last five years, said he has known Miceli since he was a child hanging out in the old Sunrise Highway shop. Joking that he was afraid of Miceli as a kid, he later learned what a nice man he was. “There’s a warmth,” Papetti said of his boss. “I’m going to miss the warmth.”
Papetti joked that although Miceli “somehow” looks the same as he did 30 years ago, the place has served different generations; residents who came as children grow up and bring their kids. “Or they go away to college and the first place they come back to is Miceli,” Papetti added. “They all end up here no matter what at some point in the night. It’s the meeting place. Everybody knows Miceli.”
Miceli’s shop was simple and neat, with witty framed posters — “I’m gonna make you a pizza you can’t refuse,” one says, a nod to “The Godfather.” Another features Tony Bennett — “I left my heart at Mr. Miceli’s.”
He greets the women with “Bella” and calls each man “Bigshot” as they approach the counter. “Luca doesn’t know anybody’s name, but he doesn’t forget a face,” Papetti said. “He knows everybody that comes in here.”
Kathleen Gamberg ate there as a teenager, and brought her now 15-, 14- and 11-year-olds there. “He’s built such a great business and has given back to the community so much,” she said. “It’s like he’s been around forever . . . and he’s a staple.”
Miceli shut down the shop last weekend, but not before making one last order for Sarah Shin on Dec. 1. Shin, director of Molloy College’s Office of Experiential Learning, handles various grant-funded programs with local school districts, and said she has ordered pizza from Mr. Miceli through the school since 2005 for summer camps, end-of-year parties and holiday celebrations.
She called Mr. Miceli to order pizzas for a Mentoring Latinas program on Saturday and found out he was retiring the day before. “He said he would make that exception and do it for us,” she said, “so that was really sweet of him.” He was always generous, Shin added, and willing to work with her and Molloy, despite the big orders and often hectic schedules.
Miceli, who now lives in Merrick, said he plans to take a year to travel the world, but is unsure of his future after that. He still owns the building, he said, but declined to say who would be moving into the space.
“Looking back, for me it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s painful to leave, but I have to leave. I can’t be here forever.”