What kind of business would a ceramic artist, a copywriter, and an industrial manufacturer launch together? Well, in the case of Kyle Mrkva, Jeff Guido, and his nephew Gabe Guido, they open Rocco’s Italian Deli, a modern interpretation of an old-time delicatessen near the Wayne State campus.
Gabe and Kyle were old childhood friends who grew up in Dearborn where they frequented local markets like Alcamo’s. Though all three of the men eventually moved to various locations across Detroit, they still often drove to Dearborn for hand-sliced mortadella and fresh mozzarella. “That got old, fast,” says Kyle. In 2014, they submitted their idea for an Italian deli to Hatch Detroit. Although the team’s proposed venture didn’t win the contest for local entrepreneurs — Rocco’s was beat out by the West Village bakery, Sister Pie — Kyle says, “that’s when we started taking it seriously.”
Since the partners are avid home cooks, creating an authentic menu was no problem. Family recipes, particularly those of Victoria Guido (Jeff’s mother and Gabe’s grandmother), are featured prominently. Her marinara sauce is a staple at the deli, slathered on everything from chicken Parmesan to meatball subs on Italian rolls. The meatballs, made from a mix of beef and pork, are Victoria’s, too.
Another especially popular menu item is what they call “Little Puzzo Loves his Pork,” named after a friend who helped the trio get started. The hearty sandwich features slow-roasted pork shoulder glazed with garlic and honey. It’s topped with provolone and sautéed broccoli rabe and sits on an Italian roll.
While the concept is based upon a traditional deli, the setting at Rocco’s is contemporary. The spacious interior is flanked by large, uncovered windows and lined with open shelves stocked with bold speciality sauces and marinades. There is also a bar with beer, wine, and Italian-centric cocktails like the Italian Paloma, a blend of tequila and Campari. The clean, crisp design is the work of D Met, a firm run by the husband-wife team of Joel Schmidt and Liz Skrisson. One distinct advantage of Rocco’s is its parking lot — no minor matter on the busy Cass Corridor.
3627 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-315-3033; Open 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10:00 p.m.-Sat. Closed Sun.