The family of a wealthy New York City art dealer have been left stunned after learning he has left his fortune to a Queens deli worker who became his companion and ‘caretaker’ during his dying months.
Andre Zarre, who died in July at the age of 78, was one of the city’s top contemporary art dealers and owned galleries in the Upper East Side and Chelsea.
The Polish-born businessman lived in an apartment on ritzy Park Avenue, just steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He also counted Gloria Vanderbilt and Emilie Benes Brzezinski – the mother of MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski – as his friends.
Zarre, whose assets are believed to be worth millions of dollars, was not married and did not have children.
Andre Zarre, who died in July at the age of 78, was one of the city’s top contemporary art dealers and owned galleries in the Upper East Side and Chelsea. He left his fortune to Queens deli worker Jose Yeje
‘Zarre had a real ‘eye’ and was a champion of abstract art from the moment he founded his gallery,’ artist Dana Gordon wrote in a tribute penned shortly after his death.
Painter Pat Lipsky concurred, telling The New York Post on Saturday: ‘He is unprecedented in my experience. He had really good taste, but he could also do things that were really bizarre’.
One of those ‘things’ reportedly included a decision to invest in Palermo Delicatessen in Glendale, Queens in October of last year.
Glendale – a working-class neighborhood- is a far cry from Zarre’s posh Park Avenue pad and the affluent areas of Manhattan with which he was usually associated.
Nick Wolfson, an artist and close friend, told The New York Post that he was worried when he heard about Zarre’s plans to become involved with the deli.
‘I never understood why he would get involved in anything except art,’ Wolfson stated.
‘He was vulnerable. He was really going blind and could barely put one foot in front of the other.’
Jose Yeje is pictured outside the Palermo Delicatessen in Glendale, Queens
However, Zarre had struck up a friendship with one of the deli’s countermen – a 50-year-old man by the name of Jose Yeje – whom he had reportedly met back in 2016.
Yeje is a married father of four who claims he is a co-owner of the Palermo Deli.
As Zarre’s health began to deteriorate earlier this year, Yeje allegedly became the art dealer’s ‘caretaker’.
One frequent visitor said she saw Zarre at the premises up to six times a week.
Yeje also helped Zarre around his Park Avenue apartment.
‘He had bad knees, he couldn’t walk and he had heart problems, diabetes and gout,’ Yeje told The Post.
‘I washed him, I bought his groceries and fed him. He trusted me and I took care of him. He was almost on the verge of coming to live with me in my home. We talked about it a lot.’
However, friends and family of Zarre paint a more opportunistic picture of the dedicated deli worker.
‘Zarre only knew the guy [Yeje] for the last eight months, if that. Nobody liked him here. … He just took over his life,’ a worker at Zarre’s Park Avenue complex stated.
On July 6, Zarre reportedly signed a will making Yeje his sole inheritor.
Just nine days later, Zarre died following a fall at his home on July 15.
Zarre’s friends were left stunned by his decision to invest in the deli, located in working class Queens
A short time later, Yeje called the art dealer’s cousin in England to tell him he was the sole inheritor of his estate.
‘I was shocked,’ the cousin told The Post ‘For more than 30 years, he said that he would leave us everything. He never told us he had changed his will.
Last month, Yeje sent a letter to that cousin ‘offering $45,000 cash and land that Zarre owned in Poland in exchange for not challenging the will’.
Zarre’s cousins and other family members say they are considering legal action, saying they believe he has much more money in other accounts, as well as an art collection in storage that could fetch into the millions.