How One Small Business Made Me Feel at Home in a New State

At Mickey's Italian Deli and Pizzeria, an institution in Hermosa Beach, CA since 1953, customers are "treated like family."

Mickey's Italian Deli in Los Angeles and it's owners Mickey and his son
Photo: Illustration by Emily Lundin; Images Courtesy of Mickey's Italian Deli

When I first moved to Hermosa Beach — a small coastal town in Los Angeles County's South Bay — from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, certain things were easier to adjust to than others. Blue skies, dazzling sunsets, an ever-present ocean breeze, and all the tacos I could ever want? Easy. But while a sense of community wasn't lacking in Hermosa, I wasn't yet a part of it, and I was missing the network I had made for myself in New York City: the barista who knew just how to make my coffee; the staff at my local market who always filled my plate with a little more than what I'd ordered; the optimistic owner of my nearest bodega and his endearingly glum cat.

Visitors often write New Yorkers off as unfriendly, but those who live there know that once a New Yorker opens up to you, a special bond forms. Suddenly you go from a passing nod on the street (on a good day) to knowing they'd have your back if you ever found yourself in trouble. Maybe Southern California was too sunny and perfect, too shiny and superficial to offer this, I thought. Then I went to Mickey's.

Illustrations of business fronts
Emily Lundin

As an Italian American, Mickey's Italian Deli and Pizzeria called to me: the green-and-white awnings; the words "pizza," "sandwiches," and "pasta" in red neon lights; the mural of Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and founder Mickey Mance on the wall outside.

"Mickey's truly values how customers feel when they walk in the door, and we believe they can feel that through our hospitality," Paul Mance, Mickey's son and the deli's current owner, told Travel + Leisure. "Like our Italian roots and culture, customers who walk into Mickey's are treated like family."

Mickey's Italian Deli in Los Angeles and it's owners Mickey and his son
Illustration by Emily Lundin; Images Courtesy of Mickey's Italian Deli

Many members of the staff have worked at Mickey's for over 30 years, Paul's son and head of marketing — also named Mickey — added, some "since the beginning," at a time when "Mickey's menu was the first of its kind in the South Bay."

As its neighbor, I know Mickey's is a place where you probably won't find your particular non-dairy milk of choice and your order may not always be ready on time. But it's also a place you'll keep going back to, not only because the food is good, but because the staff will remember your name, critique your chosen sports teams, and remind you to add beer to your pizza order with a knowing smile. Personally, I've walked in with a headache and left with medical advice and a napkin full of Excedrin. It couldn't feel more like home.

"The local neighborhood means everything," Paul said. "Babies who used to come into Mickey's, now all grown up, come into Mickey's as adults and return to share their fond's not all about making money, but making sure people are fed and leave knowing they are cared for."

Like any long-standing business, as its 70th year approaches, running Mickey's means balancing the old and the new.

"When Mickey's first opened, we served around 10 to 15 types of sandwiches," Mickey said. "Today, we offer 40 to 50 different variations. New menu items, such as our breakfast burritos and new pasta dishes, are continually added to the menu."

"Although we have added more menu items over the years, our original core recipes have stayed the same," Paul added. "We have customers who came to Mickey's 50 years ago who can still order the same sandwich today."

In addition to adding new dishes, expanded delivery services, and pandemic-friendly options such as family meals and at-home pizza kits, the biggest new venture for the Mance family has been opening Vida Modern Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant in the neighboring town of Redondo Beach.

Vida Modern Taqueria's interior dining and bar space with warm modern decor
Courtesy of Vida Modern Taqueria

Mickey opened the restaurant in October with longtime friend Justin Essman, formerly of local hospitality favorite Baja Sharkeez, to offer "a creative, modern take on traditional Mexican street food classics."

Inspired by dishes from various regions of Mexico, and with a sabe-based craft cocktail program and vibrant indoor-outdoor setup on Riviera Village's main drag, it's bound to become another area staple.

So far, the cinnamon carnitas taco, wild Mexican white shrimp taco, grilled octopus taco, and the surf and turf burrito have been among the top dishes. But even more importantly, Mickey has once again succeeded in making locals happy and his dad proud. "My dad's favorite thing about Vida's menu is the creativity and thought put behind each dish," he said.

The pair also love the support they've seen from loyal Mickey's customers.

"Many people who have visited Vida have recognized us right off the bat... We're honored that many of our loyal Mickey's customers are so eager to be supporting this new endeavor of ours at Vida," he said.

Next, the pair hope to go into business together with Essman. Be it a new Mickey's location, a second Vida, or an all-new restaurant concept, from this family, "many more restaurants are to come."

Visit Mickey's Italian Deli and Pizzeria at 101 Hermosa Avenue, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 and Vida Modern Taqueria at 1723 S Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90277.

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