The walls of Mama’s of Corona, the fabled Queens sandwich shop, are filled with signed photos from athletes, actors and other celebrities who are devotees of their creamy mozzarella and other Italian specialties.
But the real star was Marie DeBenedettis, who happily toiled away in the kitchen creating the food that drew customers from all over the city.
DeBenedettis, 63, died Tuesday after a brief illness, leaving a legion of fans and friends heartbroken.
“She loved everyone; she treated everyone like family,” said her sister, Irene DeBenedittis.
The Corona store, officially known as Leo’s Latticini, opened in the 1930s by DeBenedittis’ grandparents Frank and Irene Leo. Her parents, Frank and Nancy, continued the business, which has been operated in recent years by their three daughters, including Carmela Lamorgese.
Nancy DeBenedittis, known as “Mama,” kept a close eye on the store until her death in 2009. The corner store is especially popular with civil servants, including members of the NYPD and FDNY.
The shop has a long-standing relationship with the New York Mets, and is decorated in team paraphernalia. Its signature “Mama’s Special” is sold at Citi Field and features prosciuttini, salami and mozzarella with mushrooms and peppers.
“Mama’s is a true staple of Queens and the epitome of the best of our borough: the strength of family, community and the American dream,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “Mama’s is a necessary stop for any visitor to Queens, and part of that charm was Marie.”
Marie was known for her warm personality and wizardry in the kitchen. The menu changed daily with favorites that included eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, hot turkey and ravioli. She personally made from scratch the mozzarella used in sandwiches and dishes.
“She was like our mom; she had no recipes; it was a little of this and a little of that,” said Irene. “They both said if you put good ingredients in, it has to come out good.”
Marie even gave her sisters some cooking advice from her hospital bed — use a lot of basil.
She was also a doting aunt to her niece Marie DiFeo and her three children.
A viewing will be held on Sunday and Monday at Guida Funeral Home at 47-20 104th Street in Corona. A funeral mass is scheduled for Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Leo Church at 104-05 49th Ave in Corona.