The state has placed an order for one seized pizza from Di Fara.
New York has shuttered the legendary Midwood pizzeria for failing to pay $167,506 in state taxes, according to the state.
The storefront gate of the southern Brooklyn slice staple, which is widely considered one of the city’s best pizzerias, was closed Tuesday. It was affixed with the state’s orange notice reading “SEIZED” in large letters.
Margaret Mieles, daughter of owner and pizza master Domenico De Marco, seemed blindsided by the closure as she milled outside the restaurant Tuesday afternoon.
“Small businesses struggle. No matter how popular you are, you’re still a small business and you still struggle to keep up. You’re fortunate if you can get up and do it every day and still have people walking through the door," Mieles said, adding that the family worked out a six-year tax payment plan with the state several years ago over unpaid sales taxes.
“My father is an honest, hardworking man for 50-something years," she added. "No fancy mansion or fancy cars. They’re looking for a lump sum of money and we have a payment agreement so it doesn’t make sense.”
Mieles believed that Di Fara only missed a tax payment in May, when the business was shut down over a city health violation. Despite the delectable Italian-American fare from De Marco, the city’s Health Department has ordered the closing of the establishment at least four times since October 2016 for unsanitary conditions, including over the presence of mice and flies. Di Fara secured an “A” rating from the city just last week.
Di Fara’s dough was tossed around noon, when workers at the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance arrived to abruptly shut down the establishment. State workers kicked out pizzeria employees so quickly that city firefighters arrived at one point to gain access and shut the ovens off, according to Mieles.
“Seizing a business is always a last resort. Long before we seize a business, we are in communication with the business owner, letting them know that there is an outstanding tax debt, and we work directly with them to find a way to resolve that debt,” said James Gazzale, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance. “When that doesn’t happen, we then seize a business. And then even after that, we continue to have an open dialogue with business owners, hoping to find a mutually beneficial way to resolve the tax debt as quickly as possible and allow them to reopen.”
The state did not immediately respond to Mieles’ claims. She did not have a specific timeline or details about how Di Fara will move forward or if and when it would reopen, but hopes the matter will be resolved quickly.
Dino Rella, who’s worked at Di Fara for two years, was taking orders when the authorities barged in to close the 54-year-old Brooklyn mainstay.
“My order list is still in there. My first order was five pies. 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.”
Rella was not appreciative of the state workers’ methods.
“The state came and just said we have to get the hell out and we closed down and they took over the place," he went on. "There’s a better way of doing it. … they could do it more respectfully.”
While the ovens were off in Di Fara’s Avenue J location, the Di Fara shop in Williamsburg’s North 3rd Street Market remained open.
That didn’t keep New Yorkers from mourning the news. Dozens of people passed by, taking photos and shaking their heads.
Tammy Schoenfeld, of Brooklyn, said she was “shocked” when she arrived to find Di Fara closed down. Tuesday was the first time she had the opportunity to get a slice while in Midwood and she brought her kids along for the trip.
“This has been on my list of places to try. We happened to be in the area and we’re never in this part of Brooklyn," she said.
“I’ve heard about this place forever. It’s a known institution," Schoenfeld added. "It’s supposed to be amazing … this is not just another pizza place.”
A GoFundMe was started within hours to raise funds for Di Fara. Max Tsiring, who grew up in Bensonhurst and regularly tripped across town for a slice, said he launched the fundraising effort to help “do whatever I could to get my pizza back.”
“I’ve been going out of my way to Midwood since I was a kid to eat pizza there — since I was old enough to take public transit,” Tsiring said. “Most pizzerias you go if it’s convenient, if it’s in your neighborhood. This is basically the only place in New York worth going out of your way to eat pizza.”
With Sarina Trangle