Daniel Defonte, the reigning patriarch of Defonte’s in Brooklyn, the sandwich shop loved by New Yorkers in every borough, has died at the age of 89.
During its century in business, the Red Hook, Brooklyn-based shop has expanded to include a location in Manhattan and Staten Island, though the Gramercy location closed last year after the building was sold. The Brooklyn location remains one of The Daily Meal’s Best Sandwich Shops in America.
In a lengthy statement, Daniel’s son, Nicky Defonte, and his daughter, Karen Cipriano, expressed their love and appreciation for the elder Defonte, who took over the business from his own father.
“It was not just the Red Hook community that kept Defonte's in business,” Defonte and Cipriano wrote. “It was the customers that Danny treated with the utmost respect, no matter rich or poor. Underprivileged children would come into the store and he would feed them for free because he knew that it may be the only meal they had all day. If you had no money he gave you a sandwich. One customer’s father even left in his written will that he wanted his family to go to Defonte's to eat after he died because that’s how much the store meant to him. No matter where you go, Defonte's is a piece of home to someone, and not just in New York. He has been on vacation and random people would send over drinks or come up and thank him for what he has done for their family.
“Danny retired at age 72 but even in his ill state, with dementia setting in, he would still try to get up every morning and go to work. He wanted everyone to know, ‘I just want to go to work, provide for my family, and let everyone know I love them.’ That is the man he was. His legacy will always live on as New York’s ‘Hero’ not just through the two sandwich stores, but in the hearts of many friends and families that have had the pleasure and memory of knowing him.”