With its plump cannoli, signature blue-and-white pastry boxes, and the unmistakable yellow cursive sign on Hanover Street, few Boston institutions are quite as iconic as Mike’s Pastry.
But behind the shop where loyal patrons from around the globe flock for one-of-a-kind cannoli, Michael “Mike” Mercogliano threw his support behind local charities, always saying yes when he was asked dozens of times per year for donations, friends said Wednesday.
Mercogliano died Tuesday at his North End home. He was 90 years old.
“He was better than a wonderful guy,” said his stepson, Joseph Papa. “He was very generous, especially when it came to, but not limited to, the North End. He absolutely adored the North End.”
State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a North End native, said few knew the person behind the name.
“Everyone knows about Mike’s Pastry and their famous cannolis,” Michlewitz said. “But few hear of the business’s generosity in the North End. Anytime a community group needs assistance, Mike’s Pastry is the first one to help.”
The cause of Mercogliano’s death was unclear Wednesday. A wake on Monday and a Tuesday funeral will both be open to the public, Papa said. “We didn’t think as a family it would be fair to just keep it as a private ceremony,” Papa said. “And if we just included his dearest friends, you’d still be looking at several hundred people.”
While his stepson, Angelo Papa, has been running the bakery for several years, Mercogliano stayed involved with the shop’s day-to-day goings-on until recently.
Mercogliano had presided over the Hanover Street bakery since its founding in 1946.
According to a report in the Globe in 1998, Mercogliano moved to the North End at age 12 after his family came from Italy. His training as a pastry chef came from his cousin’s bakery, where he discovered his passion for making fine Italian desserts. His secret, he told the Globe: “Always use the best ingredients, and never skimp on anything.”
The store is renowned for its tasty treats, sought out by tourists and locals alike. In 1992, Bill Clinton visited on a campaign stop, declaring, “If I’m elected president, I’ll be back.”
Eighteen months later, Clinton returned to Mike’s and purchased 75 cannoli for his staff on Air Force One.
Boston officials expressed their condolences to the Mercogliano family Wednesday and reflected on the ways Mike’s Pastry had become part of the lifeblood of the city.
“Mike defined what it meant to be a North Ender,” said Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the neighborhood. Mercogliano, he said, “became the neighborhood’s most successful business owner. But I think what defines him most is the fact that he has always given back to the neighborhood.”
In a tweet, Senator John Kerry said Mike’s were “the best cannolis around,” a particular treat for politicians from around the country “who traveled great distances for Mike’s creations.”
Carl Ameno — director of the North End’s Nazzaro Community Center, part of the Boston Centers for Youth and Families — said Mercogliano had been an endless supporter of the center and countless other charities, donating cannoli, cookies, gift certificates, or whatever else he could to support local causes.
Tuesday night at the shop, a Mike’s employee said the staff had a hard time bearing the loss. “The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” he said. “I’ve been working here more than 20 years, and I’m not a blood relative, but he was like family. We’re all just trying to get through this.”
Outside, eager Mike’s patrons lined up more than a dozen deep.
John Cochran first ate at Mike’s in 1989. He now lives in Los Angeles County and said he makes sure to stop in whenever he is in Boston on business. “They have maintained their brand over the years,” he said while enjoying a pastry.
Cochran said he once hustled to snap up a box of Mike’s cannoli during a layover at Logan International Airport.
When Cochran sat on his flight two fellow passengers tried to make a deal. “ ‘I’ll give you $20 for one cannoli,’ one of the women said,” he said. “I told her that my wife knew I was bringing Mike’s and I wouldn’t be allowed back home without them.”
The wake for Mercogliano will be Monday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Boston Harborside J.S. Waterman & Sons Waring-
Langone funeral home on Commercial Street. A funeral service will be held at Saint Leonard’s Church at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.