The Cherry King of Brooklyn
April 16, 2018 2:46 PM   Subscribe

The Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life: First the red bees arrived; then the Brooklyn cherry factory’s dark secret came to light. This New Yorker story had so many unexpected twists that I had to stop every few paragraphs to search for more information on some tangentially related topic. I hope you enjoy it too. posted by TedW (19 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
One might not expect that Mondella’s death also would have saddened many of New York City’s beekeepers, but it did.

It really did. I never met the guy personally, but the story of the mysterious red honey was the #1 "get a load of THIS" story about NYC beekeeping when I got into it in 2011 or 2012. I loved telling people about it. But because of the way it turned out, it's not a fun story anymore.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

As New Yorkers will recall, the red honey of unknown origin followed the phantom maple-syrup smell in a lineage of weird, seemingly only-in-NYC environmental events that dotted the early years of the millennium. I kinda cherished both of them as bright, vaguely absurd irruptions of the Fortean into ho-hum quotidian life, especially after learning that neither was connected to any disturbing or destructive deeper process.

But then, I didn't know about what happened in the aftermath. A . for Arthur, my thanks to Ian Frazier for doing the legwork necessary to flesh out the story, and to you as well for sharing it.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:24 PM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

Also, investigators had been unable to find evidence to prove that the marijuana was being sold, nor had they tried very hard to find such evidence.

They found a hundred plants, a hundred pounds of harvested material, and a hundred thousand dollars in cash. Around here, any one of those (or a tiny fraction thereof) would automatically constitute “intent to distribute,” but I guess New York just assumes you’re a rich gardener with a stinky basement?

Shame he didn’t know that.

posted by Sys Rq at 3:26 PM on April 16, 2018

I actually used to manage a bar down the street from these dudes a few weeks before they were raided. They were nice guys, super big tippers, very stereotypical "mob types" in that old school Carroll Gardens way where you can't tell if they're actually serious.
posted by backlikeclap at 3:34 PM on April 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

Fascinating story, thanks for sharing.

Cerise Mayo was the, er, cherry on top.

Also, the World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime
posted by tarshish bound at 3:42 PM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh no. I remember being delighted by the small patch of red honey. I’m so sad it turned out like that.
posted by corb at 4:04 PM on April 16, 2018

"We all live in a community together—who cares if some dude is growing marijuana? It’s practically legal now anyway. I’m sure he was putting out good product."

posted by poffin boffin at 4:12 PM on April 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Slight derail: Our family has a Maraschino Cherries related story, specifically about our sister.

When my sister was 11 we were at a Christmas party and they happened to have a plate full of Maraschino Cherries. My sister loves these cherries. And she was downing them for most of the night. At a certain point she started getting really loud and really mouthy to random people, specifically my parents. At which point the host noticed my sister holding a cup with a couple of cherries in it.

Host: “ many of those has Missy had?”
My parents question my sister.
Sister: “I don't know, 20-25, why?”
Host: “Those are called 'cherry bombs', we soaked them in vodka over night.”

My sister was drunk out of her stupid mind. I thought it was the funniest shit ever. My parents not so much (they've softened on it now and it's a fun story we like to recall every Christmas holiday). Anyways, great post, whenver I see a reference to Maraschino Cherries, I think of this story. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 4:15 PM on April 16, 2018 [39 favorites]

Sys Rq: Shame he didn’t know that.

I find it weird too that the article played down the punishment of the cultivation/distribution/untaxed cash of his basement grow. No doubt that the DA or the feds would have seized the factory and threated him with a huge prison bid unless he started flipping on everyone involved. No way they’re letting him off with a few years in jail and a million or so in fines had he lived.

And a .357 in a ankle holster?!? Unless you’re Andre the Giant, you’re not keeping a hand cannon of that size consealed down there.

posted by dr_dank at 5:13 PM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Interesting article, how the cherries led to the red bees and the whole thing turned into a family drama with a suicide at the end. Sad for the dad, who gives a shit if you're growing a little dope?

One can certainly buy a concealable .357, they come in 2" barrels.
posted by Sphinx at 5:28 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really want to read this because I enjoyed the red honey story back in the day, but my paper New Yorker hasn't arrived yet and it feels wrong to read it online first. This happens whenever a fresh New Yorker story gets posted to mefi!
posted by moonmilk at 5:38 PM on April 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

Also I think about Cerise Mayo's name all the time, like nearly every time I see cherries or mayo in the bodega, and I hope she has gone on to become famous for something else.
posted by moonmilk at 5:53 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

More on the sisters' attorney and his own legal troubles, as mentioned in the article.

Also, if The World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime is as good as its author's other work, in particular Bloodletters & Badmen, then Mondella may have been reading it just for fun. Jay Robert Nash does tend to go on a bit about his theory that John Dillinger faked his death (or, more accurately, that the guy killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago was a double who took Dillinger's place, IIRC), but it's fascinating reading nonetheless.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:32 PM on April 16, 2018

I could have sworn I read about this here before, but it must have been this NYT article;
posted by bongo_x at 9:23 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

A ways in, I had to start googling things to make sure this wasn't another one of these satire pieces:
posted by habeebtc at 10:41 PM on April 16, 2018

“To have strangers going through his factory must have seemed, for such an inward and self-created man, as if invaders were rummaging around in his brain. The factory was his world, he had thought out everything in it—he was it. When he suddenly could not control what was occurring in it, or what was about to occur, he could erase the nightmare only by erasing himself.”

That’s a really strange motive for suicide that Ian Frazier (the author of the article) ascribes to Arthur Mondella, especially when the much simpler explanation that he was afraid of jail or the people who he was growing pot for. Either one could have ruined him and his family.
posted by Kattullus at 4:09 AM on April 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

> my paper New Yorker hasn't arrived yet and it feels wrong to read it online first. This happens whenever a fresh New Yorker story gets posted to mefi!

Same here, but I'm going to take a moment to point out that the reason it's so good (which I confidently assume it is) is because it's by Ian Frazier. Name the author, people!
posted by languagehat at 11:36 AM on April 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just read it, and damn, it's good. What a writer Frazier is! Seriously, even if you don't care about bees or cherries, read it. People are endlessly weird.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

...the reason it's so good (which I confidently assume it is) is because it's by Ian Frazier. Name the author, people!

IanFrazier tag added
posted by TedW at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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