An exclusive sitdown with Lil Mo Mozzarella.
Just a few short years ago, Mark Brucato was working in construction. The 42-year-old New Yorker had never touched social media, better yet knew what it meant to be an ‘influencer’.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brucato began posting videos documenting his larger-than-life personality and his sitcom-like encounters within New York’s five boroughs. Soon “Lil Mo Mozzarella” was born, giving birth to the rise of one of today’s most followed Italian American social media stars.
Although heavily influenced by New York Italian American traditions, “Lil Mo” has a boyish innocence and likability to him that has helped him appeal to a worldwide following. His more than 1 million followers across his various social media channels come from all over the United States and the world.
We sat down with @lilmomozzarella in this exclusive interview to talk about his rise to social media stardom and his roots as an Italian American.
America Domani: What is your background and what are your Italian roots?
Lil Mo’: My father’s side is Sicilian from Polizzi Generosa (province of Palermo) and my mother’s side is from Avellino. I'm originally from the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn but was raised in Queens before moving back to Brooklyn when I was 21. I grew up in the HVAC business and then began a successful career in high-rise development in New York. At one point, we had over 1,000 employees and subcontractors working for us.
AD: In just a few short years, you have become one of the most influential figures in Italian American social media. How did this happen?
LM: Everyone always told me I had the look and personality for show business. I had reached the pinnacle of the construction business and was ready for something new. I'm friends with French Montana and he called me to do a skit right before the pandemic. The skit was a massive hit and people started asking me where they could find me on social media. I didn’t have any social media accounts at the time, so I started everything from scratch. People told me to call the account “Mo” since I always referred to people affectionately as “Mo”. From that point forward, I started chronicling life during the pandemic in New York and I quickly built a following.
AD: How did you get involved in food reviews?
LM: I saw Dave Portnoy of Barstool getting all this attention for doing pizza reviews and I would laugh at it. I would think to myself “what does this guy know about pizza?”. As an Italian American who grew up in New York, I felt like I knew the food scene around here better than anyone. I started doing authentic New York food reviews, and the rest is history. Nowadays, one of my biggest challenges is pivoting and constantly studying what my audience wants. For example, I was one of the first to do authentic Italian food reviews in the New York area, and now it seems like everyone is trying to do them. Go figure.
AD: What is your relationship like with other Italian American social media influencers?
LM: I have a lot of respect for the content producers from our community who are original and who are passionate about moving the community forward, such as @Growingupitalian. They have helped me a lot through the years. I am very selective about the partners whom I collaborate with. I enjoy my collabs with Meals by Cug (@meals_by_cug), Sidetalk (@sidetalknyc), and New York Nico (@newyorknico). Those are examples of talented influencers who are doing their thing without copying anyone.
AD: Who were your Italian American inspirations growing up?
LM: I always loved Sylvester Stallone. Admired everything about him – the whole Rocky story and the idea of this underdog who came from nothing but had a huge heart. My family is blue-collar with an old-fashioned work ethic. I always felt like Stallone represented my story.
AD: You have a genuineness and authenticity to your personality which comes across in your content. Now that you are attracting lots of interest from corporate sponsors, does it ever get tempting to change your content style to appease the sponsors?
LM: I think my content has evolved quite a bit from what I was doing when I first started. I am starting to realize the effect I have on kids, too. I get approached all the time by kids who come up to me and memorize my skits. Sometimes you forget you have a responsibility as an influencer. I try to consider this in my content, and I think this is one area in which my content has evolved through the years.
AD: You have a clear New York Italian accent and influence; however, you now have a following across the world. So many Italian American influencers have struggled to expand their reach beyond their local area, yet you have been able to break through and build a global following. What do you attribute this to?
LM: I think a lot of New York Italian social media influencers try to push their Italian identity too much. While it can be entertaining to some, it also can divide your audience; I just try to stay true to myself. I just happen to be a guy who is of Italian ancestry and grew up in New York, but that doesn’t identify who I am or the message I try to convey.
AD: If Lil Mo was stranded on a deserted island, what three Italian American treats are you taking with you?
LM: Well, you need New York pizza as a no-brainer. I would go with a square slice from DaVinci’s (Bensonhurst, Brooklyn), a regular slice from Luigi’s (Park Slope, Brooklyn), or a calzone from Lucali’s. I am a huge bread person, too, so I would probably take a few loaves of semolina from Mazzola’s or Caputo’s Bakery in Brooklyn. Lastly, even though it is not Italian, I am definitely sneaking a steak from Peter Luger’s if I am going to be stranded on a deserted island.
For more information check out his webpage: Lilmomozzarella.com