For over 100 years, Russ & Daughters — and now the Russ & Daughters Cafe — has been an integral part of the history of New York City, a touchstone in the lives of generations, and the torchbearer of Jewish food in America.
In 1907, Joel Russ immigrated from the shtetl of Strzyzow, now part of modern day Poland. He got his start selling schmaltz herring out of a barrel to the throngs of Eastern European Jews on the Lower East Side. It took him seven years to work his way up from that first herring barrel to having a pushcart operation, a horse and wagon, and then, in 1914, a brick and mortar store. The original store was on Orchard Street. In 1920, he moved the store around the corner to 179 East Houston Street, where it has been ever since.
Having no sons, Joel Russ required his three lovely daughters — Hattie, Ida, and Anne — to work in the store from the time they were teenagers. In 1935, he made his daughters full partners and changed the name to Russ & Daughters, a bold and controversial move. Russ & Daughters is the first business in the United States to have “& Daughters” in its name. The daughters married men who also joined the business.
In 1979, when the daughters and their husbands were ready to retire, Mark Russ Federman, Anne’s son, decided to leave his legal career and become the third generation owner. For thirty years, together with his wife, Maria, they ran Russ & Daughters and made it into a New York destination, despite the Lower East Side’s reputation in those years as a rough and tumble neighborhood. Mark Russ Federman wrote an acclaimed memoir, “Russ & Daughters: the House that Herring Built,” which vividly recounts the history of Russ & Daughters and his time running it.
Russ & Daughters entered its fourth generation of ownership in 2009, when cousins Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman took the helm. In the United States, less than 1% of family businesses survive long enough to enter the fourth generation. Russ & Daughters’ contributions as such a long-standing family business and community anchor have been recognized by the New York City Mayor’s Office, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, The Smithsonian Institution, The Foundation for Jewish Culture, and State Senator Daniel Squadron who introduced a resolution that was unanimously passed by the New York State Senate “Commending Russ and Daughters upon the occasion of celebrating its 100th Anniversary.”
In 2013, The Russ family and Russ & Daughters became the subjects of the critically acclaimed documentary, “The Sturgeon Queens.” Produced and Directed by Julie Cohen, the Sturgeon Queens has been a favorite of critics and audiences at film festivals around the world, and it has aired on PBS stations.
100 year later, on the very same street where Joel Russ first stood outside and sold his herrings out of a barrel, his great-grandchildren, Josh and Niki Russ, continued the legacy and opened the Russ & Daughters Cafe.
In 2015, after 101 years solely on the Lower East Side, Russ & Daughters will expand uptown with the opening of Russ & Daughters at the Jewish Museum. This location will provide both the store and cafe experience to museum-goers and the general public alike.
When Joel Russ started peddling herring from a pushcart, could he have imagined a time when the fourth generation of the Russ family would walk, daily, into a landmark appetizing shop and sit-down restaurant hailed by the Smithsonian Institute, the National Register of Historic Places, The New York Times, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart, NPR, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, PBS, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and Vogue — among many esteemed others — for its contribution to New York’s culinary and historical landscape?
Niki and Josh, and Russ & Daughters, have also been honored with awards from the New York City Mayor’s Office, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, The Foundation for Jewish Culture, and State Senator Daniel Squadron who introduced a resolution that was unanimously passed by the New York State Senate “Commending Russ and Daughters upon the occasion of celebrating its 100th Anniversary.”
Russ & Daughters and the Russ & Daughters Cafe have received praise in countless national and international publications, and the cafe was recently named #2 on Pete Wells’s New York Times list of “The 10 Best New Restaurants of 2014.” Russ & Daughters has been featured in the PBS documentaries: The Jews of New York and The Sturgeon Queens – highlighting the contributions of multiple generations of the Russ family during the past century.
WHAT IS APPETIZING
“Appetizing” is a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers. The word “appetizer” is derived from the Latin “appete,” meaning "to desire, covet, or long for.” Used as a noun, “appetizing” is most easily understood as "the foods one eats with bagels.” Its primary components are a variety of smoked and cured salmon, homemade salads, and cream cheeses.
Eastern European Jews started meals with cold appetizers, known in Yiddish as the “forshpayz.” In New York, the popularity of forshpayzn among Eastern European Jewish immigrants led to the creation of the institution known as the appetizing store.
Appetizing also originated from Jewish dietary laws, which dictate that meat and dairy products cannot be eaten or sold together. As a result, two different types of stores sprang up in order to cater to the Jewish population. Stores selling cured and pickled meats became known as delicatessens, while shops that sold fish and dairy products became appetizing stores.
In New York City, until the 1960’s, there were appetizing stores in every borough and in almost every neighborhood. On the Lower East Side alone there were, at one point, thirty appetizing shops. Though one of the last of its kind, Russ & Daughters is committed to preserving and promoting this important food culture. So, now that you know, please don’t call us a deli!
To be literal, the dictionary definition of “appetizing” is, “appealing to the appetite especially in appearance or aroma; also, appealing to one's taste.” And that applies to Russ & Daughters as well.