Stephen Lanzalotta in front of the old Portland Public Market building in 2013, before opening Slab Sicilian Street Food. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Stephen Lanzalotta was best known as a baker – specifically, the one behind the Sicilian-style pizza that gained a following when he was the bakery manager at Micucci Grocery and became the basis for Portland restaurant Slab.

But the people who knew him well describe him as an artist.

Lanzalotta, 63, died Saturday, after years of battling cancer. In addition to being a baker, he was a woodworker, oil painter and author, as well as a father, business manager and friend.

“Basically everything he touched turned to gold,” said his daughter, Shaia Lanzalotta.

Emily Kingsbury, one of his business partners at Slab, said Lanzalotta was very private and didn’t want people knowing about his health struggles. When customers asked for him, Kingsbury would say he was out but would be back soon enough to make the dough. Even though he had stopped working at the restaurant four years ago, he still came in occasionally to make the dough, “just because he liked it,” she said.



Originally from Waterford, Connecticut, Lanzalotta moved to Maine with his then-wife and three children in 1991 to live near homesteaders and authors Helen and Scott Nearing. There, he learned many skills, including woodworking and baking, and went on to open his first bakery in Blue Hill. Around 2000, his family moved to Portland, where he lived since then. 

Lanzalotta opened Sophia’s, a bakery on Market Street that also housed Due Gallery – Italian for “two” – which displayed his and his friend Ian Factor’s oil paintings. After it closed, he became the bakery manager at Micucci’s, where his Sicilian slab pizza developed its own customer base.

Lanzalotta preparing pizza dough at Micucci’s in 2007. Doug Jones/Staff Photographer

Lanzalotta was fired in 2013 for what he described at the time as “ ‘overstepping my bounds’ in advocating for raises and fuller work weeks for bakery assistants under my direction, and recommending store changes to improve traffic work flow.” A debate ensued about who could use his renowned pizza recipe. That year, he teamed up with a group of Portland restaurateurs to create Slab Sicilian Street Food, where his recipes live on.

“Our whole goal here at Slab is to continue with his legacy and the food that he made, and for us to continue to make it in his honor,” Kingsbury said.

She recalled the first time she saw Lanzalotta make pizza.

“He was just so excited. He was always so excited, to bake and to put food out for people. And, you know, it was really kind of thrilling when we first opened up,” she said.


Susan LaVerdiere first met Lanzalotta in Slab’s kitchen the summer it opened, and they soon became friends.

“He taught us the precision and the art of making the dough, and we spent many, many days learning the recipes,” LaVerdiere said. “He was very detail oriented, very intense in wanting authenticity for the foods, and it was a very fascinating learning process in that way.”

When Slab first moved into the former Portland Public Market building, Lanzalotta stunned his co-workers with his intricate handiwork, painting and sculpting a wall in the new space. He handled it with the same care and mastery as he did his dough.


“Everything he touched was an art form,” LaVerdiere said.

The chef was full of surprises, she said, recalling watching him perform martial arts.


“He was doing very, very subtle and slow, I think it was Tai Chi, maybe, movements, and then he would pop a punch or a kick, and I remember him kicking the freezer,” LaVerdiere said. “It was so surprising because he was so graceful and gentle. He was a dancer.”

Lanzalotta became a published author in 2006 when he wrote “The Diet Code,” a weight-loss book in which he used mathematical principles to explain his healthy eating tips and philosophy.

“He’s the only human I’ve ever known who truly embodied genius – like, his mind was so, so many levels of fascinating depths,” LaVerdiere said. “I’ve never met anyone else like him in my entire life.” 

As talented as he was at baking, woodworking and painting, his daughter said he was even more remarkable as a person, “the most authentic and genuine human being I’ve ever known,” Shaia Lanzalotta said. “If he could improve the world in a better way, he would try to do that with everybody he came in contact with.”

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