On March 17, 2022 we lost a true legend. Many a pizza lover has made the pilgrimage to the corner of Ave J and E. 15th Street to watch Domenico “Dom” DeMarco slowly craft his famous pizzas. Although he stopped working the ovens a few years back, Dom’s presence continued to be the guiding light at the tiny corner slice shop. Although we have lost the man, his family will keep the pizzeria alive and well.
The Di Fara Experience
I’ll never forget my first visit to Di Fara. We crammed inside the packed room, no idea of how to place our order or where we should stand and wait once we did. All we knew was that we were in a special place. There was an excitement in the room. Although we were all squeezed like sardines, tearing thanks to the buildup of smoke from oily Sicilian pizza pans, not a single person complained. The room was split between first timers and veterans, with the latter coaching the newbies in how to manage the experience. One of the vets noticed my excitement and said, “First time?”
“Is it that obvious,” I replied.
Then he said, “I’d give up all the slices I’ve ever had here to be in your shoes right now, about to have your first Di Fara experience.” Years later, I found myself saying the same thing to guests I brought on the occasional Sunday Pizza Bus tour.
Dom the Entertainer
The pizza was great and all, but the main event was always Dom. All eyes were on him. Dom was notoriously slow, which I always blamed on his age. As it turned out, all those times I thought Dom was in his 80s or 90s he was actually in his 70s. His speed was intentional. He cared too much about every step to rush things. It’s cliche at this point, but Dom’s movements really were more like a painter than a pizza maker. It’s been said so many times I almost don’t want to sound like a parrot, so I’ll leave it at that.
So many things about Dom DeMarco were combination of myth and legend and fact. They say he grew all his own herbs in the window… he didn’t. Rumor has it he imported all his cheese from his home town of Casserta… not exactly. Word on the street is that he’d take pizzas out of the oven with his bare hands… TRUE! Dom said so little to his guests that it inspired swirls of inference and assumption. That was part of his magic, the effortless instigation.
I never got to know Dom DeMarco very well. He’d nod when I greeted him, but I doubt that was anything beyond politeness. He was so focused on what he was doing and I was always afraid of framing him as the celebrity he was because I thought asking him to pose for pictures would snap him out of his element and make him feel uncomfortable. But looking back, it was obvious he enjoyed his position as the entertainer who could perform with his back to the audience yet still soak in their adoration.
The loss of Dom DeMarco is a big one. He leaves behind an adoring wife and seven children, many of whom ran the pizzeria by his side. The extended family goes beyond anything Dom would have ever imagined. The pizza world was so deeply influenced by his work, not just in NYC but across the planet. Sure, NYC pizzerias like Lucali and Best Pizza exist as nods to Di Fara. But it’s the global reach that really defines Dom’s influence. So many camera crews wanted to capture the man in motion, but I doubt Dom really understood the reach he achieved through all the video coverage. People all over the planet — many who had never even stepped foot in Brooklyn — had connected with Dom passively and enjoyed his influence in their own cooking.
The man may be gone, but his memory survives in the pizza of his friends, fans, and family all across the world.