In 1905, Domenico Palmieri opened a bakery on Ledge Street in the North End of Providence.
Now, 115 years later and located at 624 Killingly St. in Johnston, D. Palmieri’s Bakery remains a celebrated part of the local culinary community.
The bakery had been passed down from Domenico to grandson Domenic, and then to son Stephen, who runs the bakery today. D. Palmieri’s has a storied history, with several moves and a fire in 2007 that ultimately brought Eric Palmieri, son of owner Stephen, back in permanently.
Eric, best known for pizza art that has garnered international attention, left Rhode Island for college and returned in 2006 with a degree in music composition. In order to support his post-college career, he rejoined the bakery. After a fire devastated the building in 2007, he became more committed to supporting the family’s business, and decided to remain there as a baker full-time.
“That was a very life-changing moment,” he said. “I think something clicked in me about what the bakery means, not only to our family, but to all the employees and customers. It’s a cliché, but you sometimes don’t know what you have until it’s gone. That is when I really started shifting. It was at that point I was like, ‘This is what I really just want to do.’”
Eric, 36, currently run the business along with brother Stephen, 38, and father, Stephen Sr. Though Stephen Sr. is still in charge, Eric has taken on and maintained the pizza art portion of the business, which has seen enormous success.
Around 2017, Eric had decided to flex his creative muscles and build a Fourth of July-themed pizza featuring stars and stripes. Later in the year, he created a New England Patriots logo pizza prior to the 2017 Super Bowl, which was received quite well, and from that point forward, Eric began to challenge himself with increasingly intricate designs.
D. Palmieri’s pizza art, portraying mainly characters, animals, people and logos, has been featured on WPRI, WJAR, CNN, FOX, Rhode Island Monthly and the Providence Journal. He maintains an Instagram account (@ericpalmieripizzadesigns) with all his latest creations.
The pizzas have been a welcome to families celebrating birthdays and milestones during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Eric creates pizza portraits from pictures sent to him by customers. He also creates pizzas featuring beloved children’s characters, which he has been making for families with children unable to have parties.
The pizzas, which range in price from $59.99 all the way up to $99.99 based on the level of detail requested, incorporate a variety of traditional pizza toppings presented in unique ways.
“I’ve done things like I’ve taken a carrot peeler to a pepper, or to get into that nice gray, I’ll take grated cheese and mix it with black pepper powder and oil instead of using mushrooms,” he said. “I’ll manipulate the ingredients in weird and sort of interesting ways.”
When asked if his techniques have ever changed the taste of his final products, Eric said, “I haven’t heard anything negative at all about the taste, which is kind of cool. It’s not only visually fun to have at a party, but also people can eat it and enjoy it like a birthday cake. All I’ve ever heard is that it tastes great. I’ve wondered myself.”
Some of the designs take serious time. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes to complete a simple design, and sometimes it takes hours.
“I have to figure out a way to make the designs good and make them in a certain amount of time. That can be hard to figure out,” Eric said. “It’s a lot easier after I’ve done the design once or twice. I know what I’m doing with that particular design and I can make it faster.”
And as the cost of his time has risen, so has the cost of producing his master pizzas.
“They’ve gotten a lot more expensive as time has gone on. Some of them take 3½ hours to make. Chewbacca pizza takes three hours,” he admitted.
And Eric makes a lot of pizzas, explaining his pizza art now takes up about half of his time at the bakery.
“I would say that, over the past year, the pizza art aspect of the business has either doubled or quadrupled from the attention it’s gotten,” he said. “Where I used to sell one or two a month, now it’s one or two a week. They’re time consuming. It’s definitely been an adjustment to figure out how to fit it all in.”
Despite the demands on his time, though, Eric said he prefers to maintain creative and physical control over his pizza art, so he’s the solo pizza artist at D. Palmieri’s, working with the support of a strong foundation of respect and trust from his colleagues and family.
“My family is super supportive,” Eric said. “My dad gives me a lot of leeway in terms of time that I spend on it at work. At this point he trusts me 100 percent in terms of knowing when to spend time on it, how to spend that time, and when it’s worthwhile from a business sense. He’s been great. And my brother is my biggest cheerleader. He’s always taking pictures of stuff and sharing it.”
Eric also creates pizzas to create awareness as well as celebrate events and holidays. Most recently, he created a pizza featuring a health care caduceus – a winged, spiraling staff – to support our COVID-19 front liners.
Through this whirlwind pizza career, Eric remains humble and very grounded in his support of his family and the bakery – and, despite the attention, still knows he must “show up for work.”
His other duties at the bakery? “Mostly pizza. Other types of pizza,” he explained. “I make calzones occasionally, chicken wings, stuff like that. Sometimes there are sauces that need to be made.”
Stephen Sr. has shown nothing but support for his son and careful protection of his business for both his clientele and employees.
“My hope is that my children carry on the business at it has been carried on for more than 100 years,” he said. “And as for the pizza art, I think it’s phenomenal, and the international acclaim my son’s work has received speaks for itself.”
For more information on D. Palmieri’s Bakery, visit dpalmierisbakery.com.