A Manhattan deli billed as the oldest cheese store in the US is in jeopardy of closing because of $509,106 worth of rent it failed to pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First established in 1892, Alleva Dairy at 188 Grand Street has been sued by its landlord for allegedly owing the back rent over the past few years.
The monthly rent under the Little Italy shop’s lease is $23,756, according to court records.
The suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by the landlord Jerome G. Stabile III Realty asks for “permission to evict you from the subject premise if you do not pay the money judgment.”
Alleva also suffered from the closure of nearby restaurants, which regularly spent thousands of dollars monthly on its yummy Italian cheeses, such as mozzarella, provolone and ricotta, said its current owner, Karen King.
“Alleva has been in a fight for its life the past 2 1/2 years,” King said.
King and her husband John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia — a relative of the founding Alleva family with roots in Benevento, Italy — bought the fromage factory in 2014 to keep it in business.
Ciarcia, the “unofficial mayor of Mulberry Street” and guest actor on “The Sopranos” who had brought in actor-pal Tony Danza as a partner in Alleva, died in 2015.
Karen King assumed full ownership of the business when he passed.
“Tony could bail us out but I’m not asking him to bail us out,” King said of Danza.
At a court hearing Friday, she and her lawyer, Domenick Napoletano, proposed a gouda plan — offering to immediately put up $250,000 and pay off the remaining debt over the duration of the lease.
But the landlord’s lawyer refused the offer, King’s attorney said.
“It’s ridiculous. Most landlords would agree to that proposition,” Napoletano said.
King added, “I poured my life savings into Alleva. I’m not walking away from it. We bought Alleva to save it.”
She said the landlord is refusing to take into account the devastating impact the lingering pandemic had on Alleva, as well as other businesses in Little Italy. One neighborhood mainstay, Forlini’s restaurant, recently announced it was closing for good after 79 years in business.
“There were no tourists in Little Italy during the pandemic. There was nobody coming here. No one expected the pandemic to go on that long,” King said.
During her tenure, King said she updated Alleva’s website and expanded take-out and catering service to try to compensate for the loss of foot traffic.
“Thank god. I got a lot of new customers,” she said.
Before COVID, King planned to expand the premises and open a café at the corner of Grand and Mulberry streets. She also built a new kitchen and hired a chef to offer more meals and was working on a branding and distribution plan when the health crisis ground the Big Apple to a halt.
Alleva now sells baked bread with broccoli rabe, meatloaf, chicken marsala, lasagna and pasta dishes, including spaghetti carbonara, among other Italian delicacies.
“We’re fighting to get some time to pay up,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking for.”
Ellen Stabile Bench, whom King identified as the landlord-owner of the realty firm, told The Post, “I really don’t need to talk to you.”
Little Italy has shrunk in recent years, partly due to rising rents and demographic changes.
Meanwhile, Italian-American civic activists have complained that New York’s elected officials have overlooked Little Italy compared to its growing neighbor, Chinatown. They criticized the awarding of a $20 million grant for Chinatown that made no mention of Little Italy.
In a gesture of fence-mending, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced the award of a $1 million grant to help complete construction of the new Italian-American Museum on Mulberry Street.