This week, the Brunetto Family of Mona Lisa laid to rest its patriarch, Stefano Brunetto (known to me and most of the community as “Zu” Stefanu, meaning “uncle” in Sicilian.) He touched the lives of many of us and was a fixture in our community. When I would see him, he would remind me of my importance: “Tu si numero uno,” he would say to me. (“You are number one.”) Yes, he called everyone that, but he had an uncanny ability of making you feel like you were truly the only number one—this was just a small part of his unique charm.
It is no surprise that many of my memories of him revolve around soccer, as he remained passionate about the game throughout his life. I fondly recall an exhibition soccer match where I served as a ball boy, with Zu Stefanu and my dad at the field as organizers, and I proudly donning my Juventus jersey. (Juventus was Zu Stefanu’s Italian soccer team of choice.) I also remember watching the 1982 World Cup in his company amid our shouts as the match concluded with Italy reigning as champion. I still picture his excitement at the victory and can see his beaming face.
Zu Stefanu came to this country as most immigrants—with an entrepreneurial mindset and a family-focused spirit, building both a business and family with love and care. One important aspect of Zu Stefanu that remains today is his embodiment of the elements an individual must have in helping shape a community and how that can result in a business becoming much more than a mere space. Mona Lisa is a fixture, its reach extending beyond the confines of the Little Italy neighborhood. Many of our Italian-community members who have long since left the neighborhood often return to shop and eat at Mona Lisa, once again highlighting the importance of place, not just space, and its symbolism in our community. Zu Stefanu, at the helm of Mona Lisa and serving as an architect of place in Little Italy, has taught his children and grandchildren well, as they now carry on a grand tradition, maintain a strong work ethic, and emphasize a focus on the community they continue to shape and to which they contribute so much.
In his later years, Zu Stefanu would always ask me about my uncles back in the old country, his paesani with whom he was very close, also emphasizing his remembrance of the people and place of his past and how that connection remained important to him.
I wish the Brunetto family much solace during this time. Zu Stefanu will always have a place in my heart as well as in our community’s collective one. Thanks for all the love you gave, Zu Stefanu. You are the true Numero Uno. —Tom Cesarini