A whiff of intoxicating aroma greets the customers as they cross the old wooden threshold of sweet heaven on earth that has been known to New Yorkers as Veniero’s Pasticceria and Caffe.
The long and celebrated history of Veniero’s, located at 342 East 11th Street in New York City, started in 1894, when Antonio Veniero, an Italian immigrant from Naples, opened a pool hall on the quiet street in the heart of the eccentric Greenwich Village. The pool hall quickly evolved into one of New York’s first coffee bars, and later a bakery was added which became a mecca for desserts.
Over the years, as the demand for Italian cakes and cookies increased, Veniero’s elaborate creations won awards in Rome, Bologna, and at the New York’s World Fair of 1939.
Veniero’s still proudly upholds its reputation and fits right into that unique rhythm of the neighborhood.
Robert F. Zerilli, the grandnephew of Antonio Veniero and the current vice president of Veniero’s, said that today the historic bakery is even more fitting as the neighborhood is becoming increasingly corporate, swamped by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts branches that pose stern competition for all the “mom and pop” businesses. At least for the time being, however, Veniero’s manages to maintain its niche.
“There is something inherently charming about this place,” said a long-time patron of Veniero’s from Fort Lee, N.J., who introduced herself as Mrs. Murray. “It’s a wonderful place to ‘people-watch’ and have a cup of coffee in the back.”
Veniero’s is still owned by the same family, and just like over a century ago, it specializes in delicious Italian desserts. They are made right on the spot under the supervision of the Master baker, Carmelo Borgognone. He has been working in Veniero’s since 1961 and has developed most of the recipes used in the bakery today.
Zerilli attributes the success of Veniero’s to its competitive prices and to the fact that all the items are made by hand from fresh ingredients.
Dzanana Godinjak, 19, a St. John’s journalism student who has been working in Veniero’s for more than a year, said that the caffe’s popularity has also a lot to do with its’ tradition.
“Everyone in the area comes here,” Godinjak said.
On average, according to Godinjak, the bakery serves around 300 to 500 people everyday, and nearly 700 during the holiday season.
“Around Christmas, people line up the block in a zig- zag line like the DMV,” said Godinjak proudly.
In fact, all the holidays are a hectic time at the bakery, beginning with Halloween.
As the throng of customers of all ages stride in, their faces immediately extend in pleased smiles as they take in the first whiff of the aroma.
“The most popular thing is cannoli and cheesecakes,” said Godinjak.
As the night creeps over the Village and all the “movers” and “shakers” of the hipster area take it to the streets, Veniero’s caffe begins to fill up with couples and small groups who sit and chat over steaming cups of coffee or cappuccino.
Godinjak said that this small and quiet caffe happens to be a “hang out” spot of Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton, who occasionally comes in for a cup of coffee and a pastry.
In fact, the list of celebrities who graced Veniero’s with their presence over the years is as star studded as Hollywood boulevard: Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Sean Connery, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Spike Lee, Claire Danes, and James Gandolfini, to name a few.
As one customer summed it up, Veniero’s is the “best place in the world. If you want to buy pastries, this is the place.”