When Mike’s Grocery first opened in 1946 in the coal mining town of Krebs, it was a regular mom-and-pop general store and meat market.
But it was always Mike Lovera’s homemade Italian sausage that made the store stand out from the competition.
The recipe traveled to Oklahoma with the Loveras and now sells in grocery stores throughout the state.
“When big retail moved in, we had to diversify or go out of business,” said Sam Lovera, who inherited the store from his father.
A specialty Italian grocery store would find it hard to survive in most towns of 2,000 people.
But Krebs has been largely Italian since immigrant coal miners arrived in the 1870s. It supports Lovera’s, three Italian restaurants and a Catholic church.
Along with about 40 imported Italian products, Lovera’s is famous for its caciocavallo, a milky cheese covered in wax, dozens of which hang from the ceiling like warped baubles.
Initially Lovera bought caciocavallo from local Italians who made it at home, but when the supply started to dry up, Noah “Pug” Rich taught Lovera how to make it.
Italian Language in Oklahoma
Rich and other first-generation Oklahomans of his time learned Italian from their parents, although the rather specific dialect makes it difficult for him to understand native Italian speakers.
There aren’t many first-generation Italian Americans left in Krebs. The language hasn’t made it down through the generations, but it can still be heard during festivals and community events, especially over a game of bocce ball.
The Italian counting game morra is still popular in Krebs, and can get heated.
Players hold out their fingers at the same time and try to be the first to call out the total number of fingers in play.
According to Rich the game was taken so seriously by his parents generation that families fell out over it.
The Italian Festival
McAlester’s Italian Festival has been running for 40 years and is the Italian community’s biggest single event.
Cultural Awareness Oklahoma Know It
Itialian Oklahoma Know It