MIDWOOD – The state came for the dough, but the owners of famed Di Fara pizzeria in Midwood were only half baked. So New York State served them with a large “SEIZED” sticker and tossed them out the door of the Avenue J landmark Tuesday afternoon.
New York State’s Department of Taxation and Finance agents shuttered Di Fara for failure to pay $167,506 in state taxes. So insistent were they to shut the pizzeria down, they almost didn’t allow pizza chef Dino Rella to shut down the 1000 degree oven that had been heating in preparation for customers who line up daily for what is considered by many one of the best pizza’s in the city.
Margaret DeMarco-Mieles, daughter of owner and pizza master Domenico De Marco, was picking up the mozzarella when state authorities arrived with their warrant to close the pizzeria.
She said her father has been making pizza for more than 50-years and it is “the love of his life” but running a small business in New York City is still tough.
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“This is a small business and you still struggle, but we are fortunate to have people who are devoted to our pizza and that keeps us going,” DeMarco-Mieles said. “I don’t even understand, because we worked out a six-year tax payment plan with the state a few years ago over unpaid sales taxes. I know we will work this out and reopen, we are not ready to throw in the towel.”
Dino Rella sat with DeMarco-Mieles in their smaller café a few doors away from the pizzeria. He’s been tossing pizza dough there for two-years and he said it is “the greatest pizza in the world.”
“This is the greatest pizza on earth, whatever sauce, cheese and ingredients always the best, that’s why they are coming for the taxes,” Rella said. “I was just getting the ovens ready when they came in and they wanted me out, but I said we have to make sure the ovens are off.”
Rella said his order list was still sitting on the counter for five pies and he expected to be busy – but “not like this.”
“I knew it was going to be a busy day. But that came out of left field. I was shocked,” he said. “I was nervous already because we were busy and I want to make the customers happy.”
DeMarco-Mieles believes she only missed a tax payment this past spring when they were shut down by the City’s Department of Health (DOH) over health code violations. The pizzeria was closed four times by DOH since October of 2016 for what they said were “unsanitary conditions” including mice, flies and holes in the walls. The pizzeria was rated “A” last week by the city after a follow up inspection.
DeMarco-Mieles said the state is seeking a lump sum for the taxes, which up until two months ago, was an all-cash business.
In the meantime, she would at least like to change the answering machine to let customers know they are closed for the time being. Rella was out of a job for the time being, but he said he looks forward to the owners settling up with the state.
“Get Di Fara back open – make the people happy,” Rella said. “He [Domenico De Marco] should be on walk of fame, that man created the best pizza in the world.”
Customers meanwhile were assembling outside the pizzeria Tuesday afternoon, incredulous that they were closed yet again.
“I can’t believe a great pizza place is again closed, they just reopened and now they are closed again,” said Domenic Rossi, a Midwood resident. “Yes, I come here all the time, and I love the pizza with the fresh basil. You can’t get pizza like they make here anywhere.”
A spokesman for the State Dept of Taxation and Finance said in published reports that closing the business was a last resort, but they would try to work to negotiate the outstanding tax debt to reopen Di Fara as quickly as possible.
Besides Di Fara’s Avenue J location, the Di Fara shop in Williamsburg’s North 3rd Street Market will remain open at this time. A GoFundMe was started within hours to raise funds for Di Fara.