The Arancini King: Michael Colomba

How many lives can one person live? Cats are said to have nine. Michael might not seem like a feline, but hey, maybe he is, and that would explain a lot. If I had to pick one word to describe him, it would be ‘enthusiasm.’ He has and conveys enthusiasm, not just for his past, but also for his future lives.

Here’s the deal with Michael: he’s a spry 64-year-old, technically retired for about a decade. But hold on, this man’s resume is like an epic novel: a builder, crane operator, pilot, aviation entrepreneur, builder of dozens of air traffic control towers, builder of 35 Starbucks stores, a hotel manager, and now, he’s building a hotel with its own theater. And did I mention, he whips out 50,000 arancini every month for distribution in 120 supermarkets? Oh, and there’s more: he’s on the brink of launching an Italian fast-food chain and is starting to import top-tier products like mortadella from another Made in Sicily friend, Salvatore Bilello. 

Every life story has its ‘sliding doors.’ We’ve talked about Celestino Drago, the LA chef, whose tale pivots around an unused return ticket.

Michael’s narrative? Almost the polar opposite. It all starts with a one-way ticket, fiercely desired for himself and his family.

Backtrack a little: Michael was born in Castellammare del Golfo. His family tried relocating to the U.S. when he was just 10. However, due to language barriers, they soon returned to Italy. Young Michael, hungry for more opportunities, pleaded with his father at 15 to go back to the States.

His father, Giuseppe Colomba, got the message. Many young bloods in those days ventured solo, betting big on life. But for Giuseppe, family was the anchor – if they were moving, they were all in it together, heading to America.

What strikes me most about Michael? The serenity and humility in his story. He dreams big, has an enduring love for seemingly impossible challenges. Like his idea of launching an Italian fast-food chain in a country where every other cuisine seems represented but mysteriously, not Italy, an intrinsic part of America’s fabric.    

This fast-food venture? It’s all about ‘arancini.’ Michael has set up a production shop (check out their website to peek at their 60+ varieties) where he also makes delightful cannoli, cassatelle, and fried iris, a popular pastry in the Palermo area.

He’s got a store in Boston and has big plans to open ten more. If things look up, he’s considering a nationwide rollout, which in the U.S., means hundreds of stores. He clues me in: while wholesale profits are slim, retail is where the money is. An arancini can fetch anywhere between $8 and sometimes even $10.

He’s also launched national TV ad campaigns, pouring millions into them. Check out this fun commercial where he’s dubbed the ‘Arancini King’, or ‘rice balls’ as they’re called in America.

Sure, Michael’s a dreamer with an artist’s soul. He’s got a penchant for music and thinks out of the box. But don’t get it twisted. Michael is as sharp as they come in the business world. He’s got the keys to the business kingdom and knows his every move. Like many successful folks I’ve met and grown fond of, he shares his secrets generously, almost like he wants to gift the world the wisdom he’s acquired. Listening to his story, his guiding principles are evident. First, don’t get too attached to material things. What you own, buy, or sell, are just that – things. And when asked about that moment he realized he had “made it”? “True success is having a family eagerly waiting for you at home.” That’s an answer you’d expect from an artist, not a millionaire feline.