Longtime Essex Street Market Butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter Dies at 60

Jeffrey Ruhalter. February 26, 2011 at the Essex Street Market.

Jeffrey Ruhalter. February 26, 2011 at the Essex Street Market.

We received some sad news in the last day regarding former Essex Street Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter. Here’s a statement from his family:

Sylvia and Allen Ruhalter, their daughter Francine Levine, cousins, nieces, and nephews and friends mourn the loss of our beloved Jeffrey Richard Ruhalter on August 17, 2016. Jeffrey had the most generous and giving heart. He was the creative innovator of Jeffrey’s Meats, a unique store which brought food and art together. Jeffrey was not only an expert butcher and chef but a true friend to his customers. He fed anyone that needed help. He taught classes on butchery and cooking that inspired people and brought them joy. During the recession that began in 2008, he even fed steak dinners to over 200 people who were laid off from their jobs. Jeffrey was recently diagnosed with cancer, but he kept all of his pain to himself. Despite being ill, he worked until a few weeks ago and continued to be a legendary friend to so many. We will never forget you, Jeffrey. Lovingly, your family and friends.

Facing increased rent and other financial hardships, Ruhalter made a decision to close his Essex Street Market stall in 2011. He was the last original tenant in the market (Ruhalter’s grandfather established a shop there in 1940; his dad ran the business until the year 2000).

Over the years, he tried to cope with a changing neighborhood, walking a fine line between serving longtime customers and new people who just arrived in the community. During the tumultuous events leading up to the closure of his shop, Ruhalter wrote:

This is my world; a week ago a lady came to my shop, drunk, and I knew that she needed food.  I went to the Pain D’Avignon bread store in the market and wanted to buy bread for her, in which the bread company gave me some bread for free to help my cause. I came back and made her a sandwich to fill her belly.  Moments later the next customer spent 45 dollars on some of my prime dry aged steaks to feed her family for dinner.  I don’t decide who gets what. I respond to the community’s needs as they arise because, if it were not for the community, I wouldn’t be here.  I can say that the community feeds my soul as their butcher but in addition, is that the community fuels my existence.  What I know to be true is that we belong to each other and without the community, you, I don’t exist. Thank you for giving my family our life blood.

In 2010, the New York Times profiled Ruhalter in a story titled, “An Endangered Butcher Gets His Groove Back.”  The article documented his struggles running a small business during a brutal recession, but also captured Ruhalter’s quirky spirit:

He was so depressed, psychologically and fiscally, that he discontinued Day of the Rose, a random holiday when he handed out 20 dozen roses to women at the market. “All you had to do was breathe if you were a woman; 2 years old or 82 years old, you got a rose,” he said. “I couldn’t afford it anymore.”… Though Day of the Rose remains on hiatus, female customers still get special attention from Mr. Ruhalter, who wears his long brown hair in a ponytail and has two hoop earrings on his left ear. “Swashbuckling,” is how he describes his look. A longtime practice he has maintained, despite everything, is paper-wrapping a handful of thick-cut bacon for each new customer. If he knows it is your birthday, it might be a free steak. Last week, a young blonde stepped up to the counter and seems uncertain about buying a goose, saying she would check back. “Dear lady, when you make up your mind, call me; and if my wife answers (Ruhalter was not married), hang up right away and call back five minutes later,” he told her.

Ruhalter’s funeral was held today in New Jersey. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Tenement Museum in Jeffrey Ruhalter’s memory.

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Ruhalter grilling lamb at an outdoor festival on Stanton Street.

Ruhalter grilling lamb at an outdoor festival on Stanton Street.

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Top Hops To Go Now Open in the Essex Street Market

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We stopped by the Essex Street Market yesterday to check in with local beer guru Ted Kenny, who just opened a takeout shop.

Top Hops To Go is now open for business on the south end of the market, in the back, near Boubuki and Ni Japanese Deli. The stall is an offshoot of Kenny’s Top Hops, the popular bar and craft beer shop that’s been open since 2012 at 94 Orchard St.

You won’t be able to down a pint in the market. Instead, the new shop is designed as a takeaway outpost, offering growlers and a selection of 50 specialty beers in bottles and cans at any given time. There are four lines; draft beers will rotate every so often. Customers can also pick up snacks from local purveyors such as Roni Sue’s Chocolates, Rick’s Picks and Pop Karma.

Christina Cahill, Tops Hops’ marketing director, told us earlier in the week that the Lower East Side Partnership helped facilitate their expansion into the Essex Street Market. The Partnership, the NYC Economic Development Corp. (which operates the market) and the Vendor Association have been working hard to boost foot traffic. After several vendors closed in the past couple of years, there have been new signs of life in the historic market lately. Besides Top Hops, other new arrivals include Osaka Grub and Arancini Bros.

Top Hops to Go is open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

Essex Street Market on the Upswing; Saxelby Still Concerned About Future Management

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The Essex Street Market has a new look, thanks in part to a colorful mural recently created on the outside of the 1940-era building by artist Gera Lozano. But there’s also a lot happening inside the historic market, which has struggled in recent years to attract enough regular customers. In the past month, Anne Saxelby, head of the vendor association, updated members of Community Board 3 on efforts to revive the facility. We have details on that today, as well as a status report from the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC), which operates the market.

In the past couple of years, Saxelby has been a vocal critic of the city’s management of the facility. She raised concerns about lackluster marketing efforts, but also the lack of a clear management plan to operate the new, expanded Essex Street Market that will anchor the Essex Crossing development project.

But in her appearance before the community board, Saxelby said, “We’re happy to say that EDC did respond” to the concerns, outsourcing marketing to the Lower East Side Partnership, hiring a vendor coordinator and facilitating several high profile public events. “We have better attendance, better communication with all the vendors, more vendor buy-in and better participation in all of our events,” said Saxelby. She added, “In the last 90 days, we have accomplished more than I saw accomplished at the market in terms of marketing in promotion in the last 10 years.”

While explaining that “the EDC has been very responsive and cooperative,” Saxelby said she remains concerned about the future.  In the past, the vendor association has called on the city to hire a locally-based not-for-profit organization to take over management of the new market, which is scheduled to open in about two years. “We did and do want to see a road map towards alternative management,” she said. “We requested that of EDC and they still have not been able to commit to any kind of alternative management plan.”

Following the meeting, we contacted officials with the Economic Development Corp. Last fall, they indicated that a consultant, Ted Spitzer of Market Ventures, had been hired to make recommendations about the best management structure for the new market, but that no decisions had been made by the city. Anthony Hogrebe, senior vice president for public affairs, told us in the past week:

…we are currently working to finalize a detailed plan for the new market that takes into consideration the operational changes of the new facility. (The Essex Street Market) is an important City asset and we want to be thoughtful about our plans for the space, and to ensure that we have full input from the vendors and other key stakeholders before making final decisions. We expect to be able to share more specifics in the coming months.

EDC officials, along with Spitzer and members of the Essex Crossing development team, have met repeatedly with existing vendors about their spaces in the new facility. Saxelby said merchants are generally upbeat with that process. The new market will be about twice the size of the current facility, meaning there will be many new vendors. We asked whether the city had started the recruitment process.

Hobrebe explained, “We have so far been primarily focused on thoroughly engaging current vendors to plan for their new stalls and the move to the new facility.” But he added that a recruitment plan is being developed and that — with the help of Market Ventures — the city has “done a lot of groundwork to identify key elements to a successful market, including the right vendor mix.”

Finally, Hobrebe said city officials are encouraged by recent developments at the market, including the addition of new vendors such as Osaka Grub. It’s “definitely a good sign, he said, “that people are excited and investing in the future of our market.”

In her community board appearance, Saxelby pointed out that the EDC has been recruiting for a new position, a vice president and executive director of markets. According to the job listing, the new executive will be “responsible for policy development, growth strategies, and operational oversight of the City’s public retail markets including Essex Street Market, Arthur Avenue Market, Moore Street Market and La Marqueta.”  Saxelby said there’s concern about the city lumping the Essex Street Market in with other properties EDC manages. “While we understand that this is a portfolio that’s difficult for them, economically and otherwise, for them to manage, we just want to continue pushing them to be forward-looking,” she said.

 

Now Open: Osaka Grub in the Essex Street Market

The Osaka Grub crew - photo via Instagram.

The Osaka Grub crew – photo via Instagram.

There’s a new arrival at the Essex Street Market. Osaka Grub, a fast food Japanese concept, has opened its first “brick and mortar” location in a stall on the north end of the market right next to Peasant Stock.

Owners David Senn and Diana Tam debuted their okonomiyaki pancakes and sliders at the LIC Flea in April 2015. You have have seen them recently at the Hester Street Fair. The savory pancakes come in three varieties: classic shrimp & pork, a fully vegetarian miso mushroom and an okonomiyaki slider. You can check out the menu here.

Osaka Grub will be open Tuesday-Sunday in the Essex Street Market.

Essex Street Market Dresses Up Exterior With Mural by Gera Lozano

Image from ESMVA

Photo by Gera Lozano

The 76 year old Essex Street Market building received a bright and colorful face lift over the weekend.

The 200 sq. ft. mural on Essex is by Brooklyn-based artist Gera Lozano. A refreshing addition to the busy street landscape, the wall is a vibrant, multi-colored graphic mix of green leaves, a tropical tree and specialty goods and produce sprawled across the once blank brick canvas. Aside from the colossal public mural, Lozano also completed five canvases within the market that can be found over the entryways and above vendors’ stalls.

More images of the mural are featured below.

 

RIP Essex Street Market Vendor Ron Budinas

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Ronald Budinas. Photo: NYC EDC.

The Essex Street Market is a close-knit community. So it hit especially hard a few weeks ago when a longtime member of the market’s family, Ron Budinas, suffered a fatal heart attack. This past weekend at the Essex Street Market block party, there was a special tribute to Budinas, co-owner of Tra La La Juice Bar and Rainbo’s Fish.

Budinas and Ira Stolzenberg have been familiar faces on the Lower East Side for 40 years. It was in 1976 that they opened the fish market. Years later, the partners (in business as well as in life) added juices and homemade muffins. The heart attack happened in mid-April. Budinas, 66, was hospitalized for seven days before he died. If you’re a regular shopper at the market, you’ve probably seen the condolence cards covering the front of the stall on the market’s north end.

This past Saturday, Vendor Association President Anne Saxelby presented Stolzenberg with a certificate and announced that a new mural on the facade of thr 76-year-old building by artist Gera Lazono will be dedicated to Budinas. “It was a beautiful thing,” said Saxelby, “to hear Ron talk about the history of the market and about all the people who have been here — the wacky customers, the vendors, the whole community. His commitment and love of this market and his customers is truly special.”

On Saturday, there will be a memorial for Budinas at the Church of St. Francis Xavier, 46 West 16th St., at 10 a.m.

A couple of years ago, the Village Voice profiled Ira and Ron. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s early afternoon at the Essex Street Market  as Ira Stolzenberg and Ron Budinas — partners for the past 40-plus years — work their adjoining storefronts, juicing vegetables for Tra La La Juice Bar and slicing fresh fish for their fish stall, Rainbo’s… Native New Yorkers, they met while working at the same fish market in Queens in 1972 where Ira’s father, Heschy, was one of the original kosher fishmongers. They’ve been together ever since, first opening Rainbo’s in a market across Delancey Street in 1976. Run and leased by the state like Essex Street is today, the neighboring market “was a mess,” Ron says. “You would go throw out your trash and see certain type of services being given midday.” When they relocated into Essex in the early 1990s, the neighborhood was still dicey. Ron recalls customers coming in the front, buying a juice and a muffin and skedaddling out the back… With their Essex Street Market (moving to a new building in 2018), Budinas and Stolzenberg say they aren’t sure what’ll come next. After four decades, it’s difficult to imagine the market — or the neighborhood — without them.

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Ira Stolzenberg (thrird from left) accepts certificate from Anne Saxelby.

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Here’s the mural dedicated to Ron Budinas.

 

 

 

Photos: Celebrating 76 Years at the Essex Street Market

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The threat of rain didn’t keep many people away from the Essex Street Market this past Saturday. The turnout was strong for a block party staged outside the historic public market, which is celebrating its 76th birthday.

Many vendors were set up in booths along Essex Street and enjoyed brisk business. Locals got to sample the savory treats at Osaka Grub, the Japanese street food purveyor preparing to open a permanent stall inside the market. Other Lower East Side businesses, such as Cafe Katja and Pies & Thighs, joined in the festivities. New Street Seats (just installed last week) were well-used on Saturday.

The developers of Essex Crossing were also in the mix. The large project will include a new home for the Essex Street Market as the gateway for the Market Line, a three-block-long retail market on Delancey Street. The developers sponsored the block party and were on hand with renderings and a big blackboard. They were inviting passersby to write down thoughts about the past, present and future of the Lower East Side (see Instagram hashtag #HowYouLES).

There was a short speaking program on Saturday, featuring local elected officials and community leaders. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez praised the market for its resiliency and for continuing to represent “the flavor and diversity of what has made the Lower East Side a destination.”

Hinting at its struggles during the past few years, City Council member Margaret Chin said, “the market has a wonderful history and we want everyone to know that the market is open for business.” Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li added, “we have been working very, very hard to make sure vendors in this market, who really represent the culture and flavor and diversity of the Lower East Side, will have a successful transition over to the new market.”

Members of the vendor association, city officials and leaders of the Lower East Side Partnership all stressed their efforts to work collaboratively to make the market stronger. In the past, merchants have expressed frustration with the city’s management of the facility. But — as we reported recently — improvements are underway to make the market more appealing to visitors. Bottom line: everyone’s playing nice.

Also on Saturday, there was a tribute to Ron Budinas, a longtime Essex Street Market vendor who recently passed away. He was co-owner of Tra La La Juice Bar, a fixture in the market since the 1970s. We’ll have a separate story about that tomorrow.

City Council member Margaret Chin, CB3 Chair Gigi Li, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, LEs Partnership President Tim Laughlin.

City Council member Margaret Chin, CB3 Chair Gigi Li, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, LES Partnership President Tim Laughlin.

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A Festive Block Party and a Spring Makeover at the Essex Street Market

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There’s a big bash at the Essex Street Market this weekend in celebration of the historic public facility’s 76th birthday. On Saturday, May 21, vendors will be outside for a block party, complete with all sorts of food and entertainment (more on that in a moment).

But first, we wanted to tell you about some improvements now underway inside and outside the market building.

You may have noticed five new murals brightening up the interior space. They’re the work of Brooklyn-based artist Gera Lozano, who was recruited to create the colorful pieces by the Lower East Side Partnership. In the weeks ahead, she’ll also be installing a temporary exhibition spanning the outside of the Essex Street Market building.

The murals are part of a larger plan by the Partnership (formerly the Lower East Side BID), the Vendor Association and the city to spruce up the market, boost foot traffic and reinvigorate the facility. In a couple of years, of course, the merchants will be moving across the street to a new space in the Essex Crossing complex. They’re trying to counter a mistaken impression that the current facility has already closed in anticipation of the move.

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Yesterday, we spoke with LES Partnership President Tim Laughlin about the upcoming changes. Some of the improvements will be in place for next weekend’s block party. Others will reveal themselves during the summer.

Next week, outdoor seating (under the auspices of the city’s Street Seats Program) will be installed on Essex Street. Interior corridors are being redesigned with new counters and fresh paint. On the building’s north end, there’s a plan to create new seating and to add a display highlighting the Essex Street Market’s rich history. There will also be a revamped visitor center.

The enhancements are being made possible through funding from the NYC Economic Development Corp., Avenue NYC (a program of the city’s Department of Small Business Services) and the LES Partnership. There’s $86,000 budgeted for renovations, marketing and special events this year. “The idea,” said Laughlin is to create a strong foundation for a year of programming and promotions” at the market.

Now more about next Saturday’s block party. You’ll see many of your favorite vendors, but also new arrivals such as Osaka Grub (they’re expecting to open an ESM stall very soon). Plus other Lower East Side food purveyors will be joining in, including : Pies ‘n’ ThighsGrey Lady, Cafe Katja, The Fat Radish/The Leadbelly and Ice & Vice. And Turnstile Tours will be offering free market tours on the half hour. The block party takes place from noon-5 p.m. on Essex Street, just above Delancey Street. It’s free, but organizers are hoping you will RSVP.

The event is being sponsored by the Market Line, the three-block-long public market that’s being built as part of Essex Crossing. The new Essex Street Market will be the anchor of that large retail project.

Talk & Taste: Essex Street Maket Begins New Thursday Night Series

Essex Street Market, 1939.

Essex Street Market, 1939.

The Essex Street Market this month is beginning a new series of  free evening events focused on the changing food landscape of New York City.

The series, called Talk & Taste, will bring together industry experts and entrepreneurs for quarterly conversations, preceded by tastings from market vendors and complimentary sips (from Tiger Beer).

The first event takes place Thursday, April 14. It features Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market. He’ll be discussing the history of public markets in New York and why he feels they’re worthy of preservation (his Seaport market ended its run at the South Street Seaport in 2014).

As part of the series, they will be unveiling a series of historic, one-of-a-kind prints taken at the Essex Street Market in the late 1970s by photographer Marcia Halperin.

Here’s the schedule for future Talk & Taste Events:

June 16 — Immigration in the Kitchen: A Generation of Food Entrepreneurs, in partnership with MoFAD
September 15 — Framing Urban Renewal on the Lower East Side, in partnership with Tenement Museum
December 8 — How Bakeries Became NYC’s Biggest Food Manufacturers, in partnership with Turnstile Tours

The events are being hosted in partnership with with New Amsterdam Market, Museum of Food and Drink, Tenement Museum, and Turnstile Tours.

The talks are free but they’re limited to 50 people and you need to RSVP. More info here.

Upcoming Panel Discussions Focus on Legacy of Essex Street Market

essex Street Market, 1939.

Essex Street Market, 1939.

A big crowd turned out last month for a one-day food festival organized by the Essex Street Market, the Lowline Lab and the LES Partnership. Two more collaborations are coming up — focused on the past, present and future of the 75-year-old market.

On Sunday at noon, Adam Steinberg of the Tenement Museum will be moderating a discussion with vendors Ron Budinas and Ira Stolzenberg of Rainbo’s Fish/Tra La La Juice Bar and Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers. You’ll be able to sample cheeses and other lite bites during the talk.

And then on Sunday, March 20 at noon, there will be a panel discussion on the “importance of preserving the rich history of markets in New York City.” It will be moderated by the Bowery Boys and include Dan Barasch of the Lowline and Rohan Mehra of the Prusik Group as well as vendors Anne Saxelby of and Giulia Della Gatta of Arancini Bros. The Prusik Group is handling commercial leasing for the big Essex Crossing development, which will include a newly expanded Essex Street Market and a larger retail complex called the Market Line.

The events take place at the Lowline Lab, 140 Essex St. More info here.

Roni-Sue’s Chocolates Stall in the Essex Street Market is Closing

Roni-Sue Chocolates' stall at the Essex Street Market.

Roni-Sue Chocolates’ stall at the Essex Street Market.

Rhonda Kave, owner of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, tells us she’s decided to shut down her stall in the Essex Street Market.

The small business opened in the public market back in 2007. Kave made the decision to downsize in the facility a couple of years ago, while opening a full-scale retail shop and production facility on Forsyth Street. Like many Essex Street Market vendors, Roni-Sue’s Chocolates has struggled during the past few years. Foot traffic took a tumble after the city announced a new market would be opening in 2018 as part of the big Essex Crossing project. A few months ago, Kave reconfigured the stall, offering products from other small businesses. In the end, she said, “We just couldn’t make it profitable.” The stall has been idled since right after Valentine’s Day. Kave informed the Economic Development Corp., which manages the market, of her decision on Friday.

In the past year-and-a-half, there has been a string of closures at the market. New vendors have been opening in their place, including Osaka Grub, which will debut next month.

You can still visit Roni-Sue’s Chocolates at 148 Forsyth St. The shop is open 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

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Big Crowd Turns Out For Essex Street Market/Lowline Festival

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Did you notice the long lines yesterday waiting to get inside the Lowline Lab? The Winter DayLife Festival, featuring food vendors from the Essex Street Market — inside the temporary laboratory at 140 Essex St. — drew thousands. In fact, we’re told, more than 8500 people walked through the doors.

The line snaked around Rivington Street throughout much of the day. The Lowline Lab, a prototype of the proposed park below Delancey Street, is open to the public every weekend. On Sunday, the Lowline crew teamed up with the Essex Street Market Vendor Association and the Lower East Side Partnership for the big event.  Merchants taking part included Saxelby Cheesemongers, Osaka Grub, Davidovich Bakery, Puebla Mexican Food, Arancini Bros, Ni Japanese Deli, Porto Rico Importing Company, Peasant Stock, Formaggio Essex and Pain D’Avignon.

The happening was, of course, good news for all involved, but especially for the Essex Street Market. As you may know, the vendors have experienced a drop in foot traffic during the past couple of years. The collaboration is part of a larger marketing campaign to lure people back to the historic public facility.

As a reminder, the Essex Street Market is open every day at 120 Essex St. Read more about all of the vendors here.

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Essex Street Market/DayLife Festival: Feb. 21 at the Lowline Lab

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Coming up Sunday, Feb. 21, the Essex Street Market is bringing a one-day pop-up event to the Lowline Lab.

As you’ve probably noticed, the lab is operating from 140 Essex St., formerly part of the public market. It’s a prototype of the full-scale Lowline underground park that’s been proposed in an abandoned trolley erminal below Delancey Street. The Winter DayLife Festival will feature many of your favorite vendors, including Saxelby Cheesemongers, Osaka Grub (a new merchant), Davidovich Bakery, Puebla Mexican Food and Arancini Bros. The merchants are coordinating the event with the Lower East Side Partnership (LES BID).

It will take place from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

We also wanted to mention that the vendors have launched a new newsletter. This month, it includes info about a Valentine’s Day Instagram contest, details about new vendors and profiles of some of your favorite Essex Street Market small businesses.  Here’s a link if you’d like to subscribe.

Now Open: Arancini Bros. Rice Balls in the Essex Street Market

Photo from Arancini Brothers website.

Photo from Arancini Brothers Instagram feed.

There’s some good news to pass along about the Essex Street Market today. A new vendor, Arancini Bros., is open for business.

The deep fried risotto balls made their debut at the Hester Street Fair a few years ago. A permanent shop relocated from Bushwick. The stall is located right next to Puebla Mexican Food, which made the move to the Essex Street Market last fall. The rice balls are available with a variety of fillings, including ragu, mushroom taleggio and basil pesto (among other rotating options). The new menu also includes salads and vegetable sides.

Several market vendors closed down last year, saying that foot traffic had fallen off significantly. Those stalls are slowly filling up. Today, the owners of Orchard Street’s Top Hops told us they’re still planning on opening a takeaway local beer shop. They’re aiming for an opening next month, once a liquor permit comes through.

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Instagram the Essex Street Market: Win a Holiday Gift Crate

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Here’s one more reason to shop at the historic Essex Street Market. They’re running an Instagram contest (Miracle at Essex Market) with a great grand prize: a holiday crate stuffed with goodies from each vendor. Just share a photo from the market and add the tag #essexstreetmarket. You’ll be entered to win. The winner will be announced December 18.

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