By Laura Weiss

Tired of sawing through onions and watching your garlic hop around the counter? All it takes is $15 for the itinerant knife grinder, Mike Palotta, to sharpen three of your very dullest chef’s knives.

Mike’s been helping Upper West Side home cooks keep their blades in proper running order, operating out his 40-year-old boxy green trunk, for more than 60 years. He’s one of a small band of cutlery grinders who troll the neighborhood’s streets.

When you hear the telltale jingle of Mike’s bells, grab your knives and scissors, wrap them in newspaper and try to catch him before he turns the corner. I sprinted down the stairs — yes, I know, very stupid to run and carry a bunch of knives — and spied Mike’s ancient truck, motor idling, parked next to the curb. The words “Full Kosher Service Available” are written on the back of the truck.

It’s the same boxy green van he’s been driving for four decades. The same one that would come around to the Long Island town where I grew up. These days, Mike travels with his old dog Prince and his grandson Frank. It’s the best knife sharpening deal in town. You get a bit of history, and razor sharp cutlery.

Schedule?  When he feels like it. Mike appears on city streets “on random Sundays,” said Frank. The roving grinder trolls Long Island villages and towns in the summer. “There’s not much business in the city then,” he sighed, scratching Prince behind the ears.

Photo by Laura Weiss.

Laura Weiss is a food writer and journalist. She’s the author of Ice Cream: A Global History (Reaktion Books). You can also find Laura at or at

COLUMNS, FOOD, HISTORY | 5 comments | permalink
    1. abigail says:

      hi – i’ve lived on West 69th street for 20 years and I’ve never heard of this great guy! Do you know what part of the West side he frequents? What a lovely bit of New York the way it used to be…..
      Thanks for this story.

    2. Mike is a regular in Garden City on Long Island. Every spring, we listen for the distinctive bell announcing his arrival. Happy he’s branched out to the UWS, my other home.

    3. Harriet says:

      He’s on West End Ave in 70’s several weekends a year, usually on Sunday. He does great work, I also bring him my “good” scissors.

    4. Natalie says:

      He was just parked on 55th St between 8th & 9th.