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Dom De Marco, patriarch of legendary Di Fara Pizza, dies at 85

Di Faras Pizza – Celebrating 50 years of pizza making
Di Fara Pizza patriarch Domenico “Dom” De Marco has died.
File photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Domenico “Dom” De Marco, Brooklyn’s beloved pizza patriarch who founded Di Fara Pizza and baked its legendary pies for over 50 years, has passed away, his family said Thursday. He was 85.

De Marco’s death was shared on Facebook Thursday morning by his daughter, Margie De Marco Mieles, and was first reported by Brooklyn Magazine.

“My world revolved around my dad. I worked alongside him since I was a little girl,” De Marco Mieles wrote on Facebook. “He used to take me to Italy every summer up until I turned 19 yrs old. He was the hardest working man I know and he was a leader and will remain a leader through his legacy. It is with a broken heart that I must share that he has left my mom, my brothers, my sister, myself and all those that loved him because it was his time. My dad “Dom” was 85 years old and all our hearts will be broken.”

De Marco Mieles did not share a cause of death nor when he had passed in her post, but outside the store Thursday afternoon, her brother Alex, another one of Dom’s children, said that he had been on dialysis for the past few weeks.

“The past few weeks he was on dialysis, it was with his kidneys,” said Alex De Marco, who said his father had passed at around 5 am on March 17.

Owner Domenico De Marco making one of his famous pies.File photo by Stefano Giovannini

Di Fara was closed Thursday afternoon, to the chagrin of those who had traveled far-and-wide to get a taste of the legendary pie, though those who had journeyed to the tiny storefront off the Avenue J Q-train stop expressed their condolences for the fallen pizzaiolo.

“We were here in 2019, we came here because you hear about Di Fara everywhere,” said Sam Kashour, who was visiting Brooklyn with his family from Ontario, Canada. “It was one of the best pizza, if not the best pizza I’ve ever had. It was absolutely great.”

To Kashour’s great disappointment, after traveling to Midwood from his hotel in Manhattan, he would not get to munch on a delicious Di Fara pie for the second time in his life. “My condolences to the family,” he said. “Maybe next time we’ll have the chance again.”

The visiting Canadian family was just one of the several that had trekked for the iconic pizza, only to discover the grim news.

“We watched a video, I think by the New York Times, about him, so we wanted to come,” said Seth Robertson, who was visiting with his family from Nashville. “What a shame.”

The presence of disappointed tourists at the corner pizza joint was a demonstration of just how far Di Fara’s lore had reached over the years. Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday that De Marco was a “legend” whose legacy will live on in every bite.

“Dom De Marco was a legend. He brought a little slice of Caserta from Italy to New York City,” the mayor and former Brooklyn Borough President tweeted. “His legacy will live on anytime someone picks up a pie from Di Fara. Our condolences to everyone who knew and loved this kind, hard working Brooklynite.”

Tributes also poured in from the pizza world, with Lucali’s Mark Iacono writing a heartfelt paean to his idol on Instagram.

“You single-handedly turned the pizza world upside down,” Iacono wrote. “You set the standard, and trails of success for so many of us. We were blessed to have you for as long as we did, and now you’re in a place where they have been waiting so patiently for you. Where the basil is fresher than ever, tomatoes even sweeter, your oven seasoned to perfection.”

“I will miss you dearly,” he continued. “Until we meet again, make pizza peacefully my friend.”

De Marco — who had immigrated from Caserta, a province in central Italy, to Brooklyn in the 1950s — opened Di Fara at the corner of Avenue J and East 15th Street in 1965 with a partner named Farina, and the name of the store remained a portmanteau of the two founders’ names even after De Marco bought out his colleague in the 1970s. Over time, the pizzeria became renowned throughout the city, and De Marco’s pie would eventually become generally understood as one of the best, if not the best, pizzas in the entire city.

Di Fara Pizza.File photo by Stefano Giovannini

De Marco worked behind the counter well into his 80s, sprinkling with love his basil, mozzarella di bufala, and San Marzano tomatoes imported from the old country onto his pizza for the customers braving lines around the corner to get a nosh of the famous pies. He was also known for his personal warmth, with love going both into every pie and towards every customer.

“He was a good guy, very nice,” said Lisa Jing, who owns Super J Discount Store located next-door, and got lunch at Di Fara all the time. “What a shame.”

As De Marco got older and encountered more health problems in recent years, he slowly transitioned out of his pizzaiolo role and left the business in the hands of his children.

Slices ultimately cost a whopping $5 a pop while a pie cost $30, and the restaurant was shut down by the city and state on a number of occasions for a bevy of reasons, from health code violations like pervasive presence of vermin, to tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

But the store always reopened, and people continued to flock from all over the city, country, and world to get a taste of De Marco’s creation.

“It was a $30 pie and it was worth every bit of it. The guy was a legend,” said Bobby Teed, a Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident who had previously ordered from Di Fara on Grubhub, but was hoping to try the pie in-person for the first time today, only to be jettisoned by news of De Marco’s passing. “I was getting a regular cheese pie which I think is the greater sum of its parts. And it was just a fantastic pie. I’m lost for words.”

Alex De Marco stands next to pictures of his father at the family’s legendary pizzeria, after Dom De Marco passed away at age 85.

Alex De Marco, who has worked back-of-house as a prep cook for the past decade, said the store will most likely be closed until next week as the family makes funerary arrangements, but that the family will soon be back behind the counter serving their adoring fans as the patriarch of pizza pies looks down on his children and smiles.

“Hopefully he’s up in a better place,” he said. “And soon it’ll be raining tomato sauce from heaven.”

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