What’s In A Name? Mike’s Food & Spirits | SCOUTV Episode #12

mike's food and spiritsPhotos by Jess Benjamin.

It seems fairly safe to assume that the people behind businesses like Jerry’s Liquors and Mike’s Food & Spirits would actually be named Jerry and Mike.

It seems fairly safe… but it isn’t.

While plenty of places around town—Leone’s, Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Alibrandi’s Barber Shop—are still run by the folks whose names they bear, it turns out lots of others aren’t.

So who’s actually running the show at your favorite Somerville spots? In our “Know Your Neighborhood” Issue, we set out to learn a little bit about the folks for whom some of the city’s iconic establishments are named.

Maria Terranova DiSisto took over Mike’s Food & Spirits close to a decade ago, and the question we’re here to ask her on this April afternoon is one she’s gotten countless times over the last ten years.

“I get this question a million times a day: ‘Who is Mike? Who’s Mike?’” she says. “Believe it or not, there is no Mike.”

Her dad had been working at the diner for a few years before taking it over in 1980. There was no Mike back then, and there isn’t one now. But there’s been a Maria for decades—she started working at the restaurant when she was just a kid.

“This is the only job I’ve ever had,” Maria says. “I’ve been here since I was old enough to reach the counter.”

mike's food and spirits

There’s an argument to be made that Davis Square is the Somerville neighborhood that’s changed most over the last 40 years, and Maria’s watched it all transpire from behind Mike’s wide front windows. The eatery predates the Davis MBTA station, and she remembers when the area was a “ghost town” by 5 or 6 o’clock. Now, of course, it’s something of a destination.

But as the neighborhood shifts around it, Mike’s hasn’t changed much. Many of the recipes in use today were passed down from Maria’s Italian grandmother. “Our dough recipe, I don’t think we’ve changed in probably 30 years,” she says. The menu is huge, but simple: pizza, pasta, subs, calzones and those beloved 32-ounce draft beers, perfect for sipping on the patio on a warm summer afternoon. “Nothing fancy,” Maria laughs.

Still, it’s a transient area, and the restaurant industry is notoriously fickle. Maria credits her “wonderful” staff with keeping Mike’s running all these years. And of course, there are the customers: both the university students who come and go and locals like Lauren Mosca and Sean Donnelly who are there almost every week, without fail.

Mosca, who’s sipping sangria at a high-top on this sunny afternoon, says she’s lived in Somerville for eight years, but that Mike’s is the first and only place where she’s felt like a regular. She describes the bartenders as mother figures, her fellow patrons like family.

“I’m sitting here, and next to me is someone who doesn’t speak any English, and we’ll both just have these big smiles on our faces,” she laughs. “When I have guests visiting, I don’t really take them anywhere else.”

Video edited by Jason Corey.

SCOUTV is a multimedia collaboration between Scout Somerville and SCATV that brings the stories in each print edition of Scout to life with video and audio. You can find more installments in the series here.

This story appears in the “What’s in a Name?” feature in the May/June 2017 issue of Scout, which is available for free beginning May 11 at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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mike's food and spirits