Photo from 2010 appears in the book New York Nights by James and Karla Murray
On Sunday, August 21st at 12pm, Untapped Cities will host the tour STOREFRONT: A HISTORIC EAST VILLAGE FOOD TOUR, led by photographers and authors James and Karla Murray. This visit will cover the food, history and diverse culture of the East Village while tasting delicious specialties from at least 6 different tasting stops.
Below, James and Karla have written a piece for us about one of those stops, Veniero Pasticceria and Caffe:
Many family-run businesses started out as traditional mom-and-pop stores passed down from generation to generation, and defined their neighborhoods. Not only are these modest small businesses falling away in the face of modernization, gentrification, and conformity, but the once unique appearance and character of New York City’s colorful streets also suffers in the process.
One of the many small businesses we will stop and sample food from is Veniero Pasticceria and Caffe, which was established in 1894 by Antonio Veniero. This fourth-generation family-owned bakery specializes in Italian pastries, including their famous cannoli, cheesecake, biscotti (Italian biscuits) and Italian butter cookies. Throughout the years they have added new offerings and now sell over 200 varieties of pastries, cakes and cookies. On our walking and tasting tour everyone will sample a freshly made cannoli while learning interesting facts and history about the oldest Italian pastry business in New York City.
Photo by James and Karla Murray
In the photo above is fourth-generation owner Robert Zerilli, who took over the business after his father passed away in 1994. We interviewed Robert for our book New York Nights and he shared with us:
“We bake so many cakes and pastries that we go through about 1,000 pounds of sugar every week. We have retained as much of the original interior as possible, including our hand stamped metal ceilings, terrazzo floors, wood display cases and mirrors.”
Robert told us about the history of the bakery:
” I am the fourth generation owner. My father’s uncle was Antonio Veniero who was born in 1870. Antonio founded Veniero’s after he emigrated here from Vico Equense, near Sorrento, Italy. Initially the store was more like a hang out kind of place where he roasted his own espresso and people from the neighborhood would come in and sit and talk just like they did back in Italy. Eventually his customers wanted to have something sweet along with their coffee so Antonio started making homemade candy and officially opened the shop as A. Veniero Confection in 1894. His three sons, Michael, Peter and Alfredo worked alongside him and as the business grew, Antonio decided to bring in some master bakers from Italy to make cakes and pastries. That was a really big step to go from a little confectionery to a more prominent pastry shop and word spread around the neighborhood, which at the time had a huge Italian immigrant population. Many famous Italian people ordered cakes and pastries from us, including Enrico Caruso. Eventually Antonio changed the name of the shop to Antonio Veniero Pasticceria.”
See historic photo below courtesy of Veniero’s Pastry:
Robert also told us:
“Our huge overhanging neon sign is not original but was installed in the 1940s. We are refurbishing it constantly just to keep it lit. The guy who works on it tells me that he can make a new one for $12,000 that looks just like it and is more weatherproof and that in the long run will cost me less money. But I don’t want that. That’s not cool. I want the old dirty broken-down looking sign. That is what people love and as long as I am alive, I won’t put up a new sign. The sign to me is like our lighthouse beacon. “
Photo below of circa 1940 storefront courtesy of Veniero’s Pastry:
Photo below circa 1960 courtesy of Veniero’s Pastry:
Rents are soaring in the neighborhood due to increasing gentrification and although a neighboring Italian pastry business recently closed, Robert explained:
“My family, the Zerillis, owns the building we are in so we don’t have to worry about our rent being raised. My son has now joined the business too. I love working here and want to keep the business going forever.”
Photo from 2014 by James and Karla Murray
On the East Village food tour you will learn about the diverse German, Italian, Jewish and Ukrainian history of the East Village and try some fresh homemade Italian mozzarella, drink an authentic New York City egg cream or have a freshly roasted cup of coffee, taste a hot Ukranian potato pierogi with toppings, sample a freshly baked Jewish sugar cookie, enjoy an authentic New York hot dog and tropical drink and taste a freshly baked Italian cannoli.
Tickets are still available:
Historic East Village Food Tour
Next, check out 5 of NYC’s Oldest Bakeries.