Fight to save Little Italy's Alleva Dairy, U.S.'s oldest cheese shop

The Alleva family opened Alleva Dairy on Grand at Mulberry St. in 1892.

"It was the first Italian cheese store in America," Alleva Dairy owner Karen King said. "My husband said to me: 'Don't ever let Alleva go.'"

King and her husband Johnny Cha Cha -- of Goodfellas and Sopranos fame -- bought this cheese shop from Johnny's Alleva cousins before he died in 2015, leaving King to oversee this family business and Little Italy institution.

"We’re the heart of Little Italy," King said.

Opened 130 years ago on the same corner of Mulberry and Grand where it now sits, Alleva Dairy's remained in the same family through five generations, but after King missed three months of rent payments at the beginning of the pandemic, she says her landlord sent her an eviction notice. 

"We took very little money [during the beginning of the pandemic]," King said. "We made very little money."

More than two years later, King said she and her landlord continued to struggle to reach a compromise for those three months of outstanding rent. King's launched a GoFundMe page in hopes her generations of loyal customers might help her to make up the difference. "They’ve been buying cheese [here] for probably 30, 40 years," she said.

How Alleva survives for the next 130 years, Karen admitted she didn't know, but that it will continue to offer made-fresh-daily mozzarella, cannolis, prosciutto sandwiches and other staples, Karen guaranteed.

"I’m not leaving," she said.