How can Russ & Daughters stay true to its Lower East Side roots—and continue to provide its world-class deliciousness—while expanding sustainably in New York’s changing economic landscape?
That’s the question facing the legendary, 102-year-old appetizing shop and restaurant, as it works towards the opening of two new locations: a kosher-certified Upper East Side cafe in the Jewish Museum, slated to open later this month, and the recently announced manufacturing and retail facility in Building 77, a massive food hall in development in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with a launch date in 2017 or 2018.
“You can’t reproduce 102 years of history,” said Niki Russ Federman, a Russ & Daughters co-owner and 4th-generation Russ. “But we can parse out some elements [of that history]: What are the feelings there? How do you give people a sense of context, so that, for example, when they’re in the Jewish Museum location, they’re being transported to the Lower East Side.”
To bring out the character of history, Russ & Daughters is renovating the existing cafe at the Jewish Museum space by “peeling back years of bad renovations and paint jobs and cover-ups to reveal the original bones of th[e] 100-year-old mansion,” said Federman.
Similarly, Russ & Daughters was drawn to the Navy Yard project because of its 200-year history as a commercial and industrial hub, but one that is also quickly expanding and becoming a hot residential ticket. “That speaks to us,” said Federman, of the heavy-duty space that was once a steady shipyard. “It imbues the experience, and it felt like a very natural fit.” Once the Building 77 project is complete—and with it, a 60,000-sq.-foot ground floor food court—it will become the new home for Russ & Daughters’ production facilities, which currently operate in Bushwick. Russ & Daughters’ will lease 14,000-sq.-foot space in the Navy Yard.
“People will be able to come and look through huge glass windows, see our bagels being made, our challah being kneaded, our smoked salmon being sliced, our pickles being pickled,” said Federman. “You can enjoy the food right as it’s being made.”
The two forthcoming expansions will be Russ & Daughters’ first forays outside lower Manhattan—the food business opened a new cafe on Orchard Street in 2014, around the corner from its original Houston Street shop—but they have no plans to abandon their roots.
“[Houston Street] is the mothership, the Jewish mecca. It always will be the heart and soul of Russ & Daughters,” Federman said. “But that store is 100 years old, it’s in a tenement building, it is very intimate space-wise, so in terms of running a business and having a bakery, having a national shipping business, doing all the food production—that’s where the Navy Yard comes in.”
Rose Kaplan is an intern at Tablet.