When Mario Zulli moved to Southold 23 years ago, he was hoping to enjoy his retirement at the house he’d built here. But as a lifelong butcher he couldn’t keep away from his profession. One day he walked into the Village Market on Love Lane and was hired on the spot by then-owner Marilyn Gatz.
Mr. Zulli, who spent the next 22 years as the butcher at the Village Market and came to be known as the unofficial “Mayor of Love Lane,” died two weeks ago at the age of 82, less than one year after the Village Market was sold to the owners of the Love Lane Kitchen.
“He fit right in with everyone and he never complained. He never raised his voice and he never talked bad about anyone,” said Judy Thilberg, the former cook at the market, last week after Mr. Zulli’s death. “He loved his job at the Market the most because he was right there to see everyone and help them. … His life was being the butcher on Love Lane, where he knew everyone and would go out of his way to help everyone in any way he could. Mario always had a little cup of lollipops for the little kids that he would bring from the bank, where he would love to go visit all the girls at the Love Lane Branch.”
Even though he had two days off every week, Mr. Zulli would show up each morning at 6:30 a.m. to make chopped meat and to be sure his meat case was looking its best.
Two years after Mr. Zulli was hired by Ms. Gatz, Mike Bourguignon bought the market, and he became like a son to the senior butcher, who was then 60 years old. They worked side-by-side for the next 22 years, and Mr. Zulli was like a member of the family to his co-workers, attending all of their graduations, christenings and weddings. Those co-workers, including Mr. Bourguignon, were the pallbearers at Mr. Zulli’s funeral at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck.
“It was like having your father or your grandfather working with you. He was always Steady Eddie. Nothing would ever bother him,” said Mr. Bourguignon. “He would love to talk politics and greet you with a smile. Ladies would come in to see him. He was always in the same white apron and white coat. He lived in that for his time there. He was an old-school butcher. It’s a big loss.”
“He had an incredible work ethic. Get up and go to work, that’s what he did,” said one of Mr. Zulli’s three daughters, Judy Perez, who moved to Peconic seven years ago to be closer to her dad.
“My kids have memories of going there to see Poppy,” she said. “He was like the mayor of the town. Some of the ladies in town knew he was single and they would bring him in home-cooked meals.”
Artist Max Moran even did a portrait of Mr. Zulli working, which Ms. Perez now has at her home.
After the market was sold last year, Mr. Zulli finally had a chance to travel. He went to Guardiagrele, Italy with his daughter Judy to visit his father’s family, went to a Stan Kenton Memorial Concert in California, and visited his niece in North Carolina.
“He would stop every other Tuesday to see me at my brother’s shop, when he would go for his Tuesday breakfast as he did for many years,” said Ms. Thilberg.
Mr. Zulli loved jazz and he played the clarinet and alto saxophone in the Greenport Band on Friday nights until about seven years ago. Ms. Perez said that every year he would say that it was his last year he could continue working, but he didn’t leave the shop until it closed in Sept. 2010.
“It was a mixed feeling [when the market closed],” said Ms. Perez. “He always said ‘this is going to be my last year. I’m tired.’ I could tell the fatigue in him, but that was his whole life.”
“I think he was there just to stay with us. The crew we had was so loyal. It gave him a lot of satisfaction, a purpose,” said Mr. Bourguignon. “How many people work basically until the day they die at 82? Not too many.”