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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Ruhalter Quitting Essex Street Market

Jeffrey's Meat, officially closing shop at the Essex Street Market - photo by thelodownny.com

A short time ago Jeffrey Ruhalter of Jeffrey’s Meats told us he’s not reopening his shop in the Essex Street Market. Three months ago Ruhalter temporarily closed the store to get his finances in order. His rent was due for an increase but Ruhalter’s landlord, the Econmic Development Corp., had been working with him on moving to a smaller space. (Ruhalter released a statement citing the EDC’s support back in March.)

Unfortunately, he was unable to come up with a way to save the butcher shop, which had been a fixture in the market since 1940.

Here’s a statement released today by the EDC:

“We wish Jeffrey the best, and thank him and the Ruhalter family for their decades of dedication to the market and its customers. We will now move forward with finding a new vendor to reactivate Jeffrey’s former space and look forward to continuing the success of this vibrant public market which serves the Lower East Side community.”

A Message from Jeffrey Ruhalter on the Closing of Essex Street Butcher Shop

Jeffrey Ruhalter, Saturday morning, February 26, at the Essex Street Market.

We just received the following statement from Jeffrey Ruhalter of Jeffrey’s Meats in the Essex Street Market:

I speak to my/our community.

I sent out a press release last week in a last ditch effort for help because I have run out of time and options.  Only one of my issues was rent.  The press release resulted in a barrage of responses directed toward EDC and I understand that the “landlord’ is an easy target.  In response to the press release EDC requested a meeting with me.  I expected to meet with their representative and expected to hear, “pay rent or get out”.  Instead, when I arrived to the meeting, I was met with the top four executives of EDC.  C’mon, really, I’m just a butcher, I don’t deserve this attention… Only after an hours long meeting did they bring up the issue of rent.  I found myself meeting with the community, not my landlord.  All they wanted to do was to find ways to help me. They represented you, the community, and they played their roll in helping me as your representative of the community.  I was astounded at their position.  I’m a black and white guy, if I can’t pay rent, I have to get out.  Instead, they gave me options to survive. I don’t really know how to define what happened to me in that meeting but I started to breath again.  While we worked out a plan to keep my rent the same, at this time I still must temporarily close, as we have other financial considerations that we must try to resolve.

Jeffrey’s Meat Market Closed — At Least For Now

This morning, there are no signs of any activity at Jeffrey’s Meats in the Essex Street Market and the display cases are completely bare. Yesterday, an employee told us it was the store’s last day in business.  In the past week, fourth generation butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter has been deciding whether to renew his lease.

There have been ongoing conversations with the Economic Development Corp, which manages the market. Although Jeffrey’s rent had been raised 29%, the EDC was willing to keep it the same if the meat shop gave up some space. But it’s become clear Jeffrey faces much larger financial problems. There have been suggestions the shop could eventually return, possibly under new management.

The Ruhalter family was an original tenant of the Essex Street Market when it opened on the Lower East Side in 1940.

Is Jeffrey’s Meat Market Closing?

Jeffrey Ruhalter, Saturday morning, February 26, at the Essex Street Market.

Over at the Essex Street Market this afternoon, the staff of Jeffrey’s Meats appears to be preparing for a “move out.” Odds-and-ends are being removed from Jeffrey’s office — boxes are being packed. When asked whether the business was closing, one employee said, “yes.”

Last week, it came to light that Jeffrey Ruhalter, a fourth generation butcher, was in financial trouble. News of a 29% rent increase due the beginning of this month was just the latest blow.

Rent Hike Only Part of the Problem at Jeffrey’s Meats

Jeffrey Ruhalter, Saturday morning, February 26, at the Essex Street Market.

Here’s the latest on the plight of Jeffrey’s Meats, a Lower East Side institution that’s fallen on hard times. Last week, news of a 29% rent increase raised new concerns that Jeffrey Ruhalter, a fourth generation butcher, wouldn’t be able to keep his store in the Essex Street Market open much longer. Today we spoke with Jeffrey as well as Danny McNeill, who’s been helping run the business for the last couple of years.

While the rent hike is a setback, it’s very clear the business is confronting far bigger problems. As McNeill suggested in a press statement released last week, Jeffrey is in search of someone to buy the meat market, which has been battered by the economic downturn and impacted by the large demographic transition the neighborhood has been undergoing in the past decade.

LES Butcher Faces 29% Rent Increase; Chin Intervenes

Yesterday author Karen Seiger reported on her blog, the Markets of New York, that Essex Street Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter was in trouble. According to a press release she received from his publicist, Jeffrey was “running out of options” because his  “landlord (was) requesting an $8000 renewal fee on the first of March along with a rent increase of 29 percent.”

“Although what Jeffrey needs is an investor or someone to buy the store,” the release added,  “what he may really need in the future is a job.” For a couple of years now, he’s been holding out hope that a reality tv show and/or a book offer would come through. In December, the New York Times reported Jeffrey thought about shutting down last year but eventually “got his groove back.”

Talking Turkey with Jeffrey

Don’t let that big knife scare you. Essex Street Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter will be happy to help you prepare for Thanksgiving, which is only 10 days away. We stopped by over the weekend to learn about some of the options available for the big feast.

Here’s the scoop:

If you want a fresh, all-natural turkey (from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania), you’ll need to get your order in no later than the end of the day tomorrow.

But if you just need a regular fresh or frozen turkey, there’s still time. Jeffrey says you can order those varieties up until Monday or Tuesday of next week.  What’s the price difference? The all-natural bird will cost you around $4.75/pound — $2.29 or so for a regular fresh turkey — and $1.99 for frozen.

Cheap Meat Goes Mainstream

Today the New York Times got around to discussing the wonders of inexpensive cuts of meat, just two weeks after The Lo-Down brought you Essex Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter's cheap meat primer.

Visit Jeffrey's web site here.

Jeffrey’s Money Saving Dinner Tips

Earlier this month, Essex Market butcher Jeffrey Ruhalter made headlines for his "recession dinner," treating dozens of struggling families to a steak dinner at two neighborhood restaurants. Just about everybody is trying to make their dollars stretch further these days. So we stopped by the market the other day to ask Jeffrey for some insider tips on ways to save money at the butcher's counter. Take a look.

Visit Jeffrey's web site here.