Lost in the shadow of a sidewalk shed, you could blink and miss the Starlite Deli. The unassuming storefront — a staple of W44th Street since 1984 — doesn’t stand out among the bright lights of the Broadway houses it’s sandwiched between. The Starlite, however, has been running longer than any Broadway show. And while the deli’s proprietor, Jung Min Kim, known by his stage name “Mr M”, has cultivated a cult following from the theatrical community, he’s decided to retire and set the closing notice on one of the Theater District’s longest-running productions.
“My favorite show? I loved the A Chorus Line — it was very, very impressive to me,” said Mr M, recalling his first years on W44th Street across from the Shubert Theatre, where the original production of the long-running dance musical once played. Still going full force until the business closes on April 28, he told W42ST that his favorite part of being stationed amid the world’s most prestigious theaters and the legendary Carmine’s was getting to know the cast and crew of each show, adding that Starlite was known as the go-to lunch caterer for “load in” and “load out” of each show. “My favorite people are the stagehands — we’ve become friends,” said Mr M, as one longterm Wicked crew member stopped by to pay his respects and leave his phone number — “so we can stay in touch.”
“Mr M is the nicest man — he’s been taking care of us for 30 years,” said Mark, a stage veteran who has been with the company of Wicked for 18 years. “He has a sunny disposition that is honestly really unusual for Times Square.” He added that stagehands and theater professionals across the industry — including his brother who works at The Lion King — consider Mr M to be the best of the best, and a true friend who they’ve been lucky enough to visit for the better part of four decades. “Mr M is like a brother to us — he’s just a good man,” said Mark.
Mr M gracefully accepted the compliment, demurring from taking any additional credit for the gargantuan task of keeping a Midtown business open through the area’s highs and lows, recessions and of course, COVID-19 shutdowns. “We were lucky,” he says of managing to survive the pandemic and close on his own terms.
Having seen momentous change wash over Midtown over the course of his career, Mr M wryly observed that the biggest trend he’s observed over time is the rising cost of attending a Broadway show. “When I came in, there were a lot of people enjoying Broadway, because the prices weren’t that high. Now, it’s much, much more expensive. I hope that everyone can still enjoy a show, but the pricing is different.”
Mr M will miss his favorite Starlite sandwich (“the special Chicken Cutlet”) and the vibrant Midtown energy that flows through a deli that hosts everyone from tourists to Broadway stars to the Naked Cowboy, who popped in briefly during our visit to grab a snack in a semi-disguised fur coat and trademark boots — but added that he was ready “to relax” for a change, and will retire permanently to Long Island. “I loved getting close with the community,” said Mr M as he wrote down a delivery order for the still-busy late-lunch crowd. “I’ll be back before your last day!” called out a patron as they grabbed a sandwich from the counter and Mr M shouted back, “see you!”
The Starlite Deli (212 W44th Street between 7/8th Avenue) will close on April 28.