Spotlight: Di Fara Pizza

It seemed a bit silly to count Di Fara Pizza at the Seaport as a “New Kid” since they’ve been in business since 1965. Its founder, Dominic DeMarco, died this past March at the age of 85, having worked every day in the Midwood pizzeria for 57 years. But his seven children are keeping the family business going, and I was lucky to talk to Margaret Mieles, the middle child, who not only opened this storefront, but who hopes to expand the brand as a way to honor her father.

Di Fara Seaport is at 108 South Street, just across from Pier 17, in a renovated classic brick Seaport storefront.

Tell me about your dad.
If I go as far back as when he came to the United States, he came at 26 with $30 in his pocket and started working on a farm in Huntington on Long Island. He grew up as a farmer so dealing with fresh ingredients was not new to him — he had access to them right in his backyard. And he loved working with his hands.

My father and my uncle started working in a pizzeria in Brooklyn. He was a guy who never wanted to stand around doing nothing. He was always doing someone else’s job, and someone would say, “Dominic, that’s not your job,” and his boss would say, “Shush, he knows what he’s doing.” He also used to say that you have to be confident in what you do — don’t worry about what the person across the street is doing, be confident in yourself, and your hard work, and what you bring to the table.

My father worked seven days a week all day and then he married my mom, and then he had to work seven days a week all day! There were seven of us. I wish I would have documented my dad’s whole life because I find myself speaking about him so often.

Why is it called Di Fara?
My father opened the pizzeria with a partner, Franco Farina. At that time the attorneys wanted a fusion of the names, so they took De from De Marco and Fara from Farina, and somehow changed the De to Di and that’s how it came about. [The Farinas went back to Italy and her father bought them out.]

What’s the secret?
Without even trying, my father’s love for fresh ingredients and high quality flavors is what made his sauce the best. In fact, he never said “I’m gonna be the best.” You know when you read a pizza box that says, “You’ve tried the rest now try the best”? He didn’t want that on the box, because he said, “Let them tell you that you’re the best.”

When you start something and you think you are good at it, and then you keep at it and then you become extraordinary. And I think that’s happened with my father. People came from all over the world to have his pizza. We thought it was beautiful to be the best in Brooklyn — now we are written up all over the world.

What did you eat at home growing up? 
My father would eat a slice a pizza every day, standing up, as a tester. But other than that he ate once a day. When we locked the doors at the end of the evening, he would sit down to an Italian meal with a bottle of wine and we would sit with him. His glass of wine was the thing he looked forward to every day. The only time as a family that we sat down at a normal dinner time would be a holiday — Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Easter.

Pasta e fagioli was father’s favorite. He taught us to make it as a meal, more like a pasta dish than a soup, but technically you just add water or broth to make it a soup so I guess it’s mood-based. Something simple as that was his main go-to dish.

My father would bring me to Italy every summer when my grandparents were still alive, and that’s when I developed that desire for family time at the dinner table — no TV, no phones — so eventually at the end of the work day, we would be the ones to prepare the meal and sit down and have dinner.

Did he ever stop working?
He worked up until 82 and then he started to slow down, and so as he was getting older it was necessary for him to sit down throughout the day. Before that, he stood up for hours. He paid rent for 57 years and it wasn’t always easy.

In a way, covid was a gift. In 2020, he didn’t come to the pizzeria any more to keep him safe. Those last two years were two beautiful years, because he got to sit down and have his dinner at a normal time, which is something that never happened in their lives. He got to sit next to my mother and they watched their shows, they watched old movies. As a daughter I feel quite lucky because I can never look back and say I didn’t spend enough time with my father.

The one thing I will say now is till his last day, he knew who we all were, he was still able to eat, and he was still in business and we were even expanding. One day he looked at me and said are your stores ok? and is your mom ok? and I could say yes, and he passed away that day.

I set out every day to try to keep my father’s spirit alive — it’s all him and I am not going to change a thing.

Are you a good cook?
Am I a good cook? That’s what people tell me. I am pretty much like my father — anything Italian, then I like putting my own spin on anything. Simple. Three good ingredients. When you buy a tomato, you have to bite into it to make sure it’s good. You have to sample. You can’t take the tomato that’s on sale. That’s your base, that’s where you start. One of the customers said, “My wife doesn’t know how to cook” and I said, does she know how to read? Then she can cook!

How did your father teach you the business?
Avenue J is what started it all, with the recipe. Growing up we all worked alongside our father.

So how are the kids involved in the store now?
We all are involved, and that’s the reason we were able to expand the way we expand. We will not operate any new locations without having one of our family present at the location.

In 2018, we opened in Williamsburg as part of a food hall. When covid happened, most of the other vendors left. But I continued to do my nationwide shipping via Goldbelly. We started that in 2019 not knowing what would happen of course — it turned out to be the best decision for the business. The pizza we make today in Williamsburg, we put it in the freezer and it goes out overnight, as fresh as possible.

At first when they wanted to reopen the food hall, I said no no no — I am sold out for the next two years! But someone did just buy the market and it is expected to open again sometime in the fall – I am going all in and staying.

What’s your role at the business?
My #1 priority is making sure my mom is in good hands – she’s still living in Brooklyn. I was full time taking care of my parents during covid, and now I guess my siblings and I are owners of the locations. I am president of some of the corporations, and all seven of us work for the business. But mostly, like my father, I love what I do.

Why the Seaport?
Back in 2019 I started a partnership with several businessmen in the restaurant industry and we were going to look for a suitable spot for a third location. [They have Midwood and Staten Island now.] The rent has to be low because we are a very high quality product. Then covid happened and we were waiting, waiting for New York to open up again. They called me with this location and I fell in love. It was beautifully built. We became a restaurant group so we can open up other Di Fara locations around the city.

Overall it’s been challenging because of supply chain issues, but when I came to the Seaport and saw it was so crowded — with people who live in the area, people who were visiting the area, and it gave me so much joy. So far I feel a lot of joy too in all the stories I’ve heard about my dad, and the memories people are sharing with me when they come by the shop.

What’s next?
My goal after losing my father in March is that everyone knows what Di Fara is and that it is accessible to everyone in New York. The whole idea is everyone gets to know the story of my dad — an incredible pizza maker, businessman but also an incredible human being. Luckily I have such a great team and I am able to make this happen.

At the Seaport, we have so many other dishes that we can make — our heros are amazing — but we are starting with just pizza. We may not even have to expand the menu because even if you go in twice a week, there’s never ending combinations of what you can experience with pizza being the base of it. Our pepperoni is hand cut, we import sun dried tomatoes. For now we will see if we even need to add anything.

What about the next generation?
Between all of us there are only three grandchildren; one passed from leukemia and that was the hardest thing that every happened to us. I don’t have children — I describe all my businesses and all the different personalities of my employees as my children — I feel like play a role as a parent every single day, even with my parents. But I don’t mind. I wouldn’t change a thing.


1 Comment

  1. Great article! I can confirm this pizza is very good. My new go-to.