Now 85, Joseph’s father Matteo is patriarch of the remarkable family, who’s nourished the neighbourhood for six decades, with much more than just quality produce.
“Our customers are our family,” Joseph tells me over coffee, “and Arena’s deli is like their second home. A place to meet, share stories, discuss politics and trade recipes – just like in villages in Italy.”
Born in the tiny fishing village of Ganzirri in Messina, Sicily, Matteo left Italy’s crushing economic paralysis in 1949, for the promise of Australia.
He recalls stashing a tattered old suitcase with crispbread and salami, a gut-wrenching goodbye to his mother, then six arduous weeks on board an over-crowded migrant ship, headed for Sydney.
He was just 14.
“Dad arrived in Australia all alone, and spoke no English,” Joseph says, “but luckily there was an uncle in Willoughby with a fruit shop, who took Dad in” Joseph says.
“He had a strong work ethic and wanted a better life – and that was the beginning of the Arena’s brand.”