The tributes have been pouring in during the past couple of days for Kenny Shopsin, the brash, big-hearted creative force behind Shopsin’s General Store in the Essex Street Market. Shopsin died on Sunday at the age of 76. While the cafe was temporarily closed, Tamara Shopsin (one of Kenny’s five children) announced that it will be back in business today (Wednesday). “My dad won’t be there in body,” she wrote on her Instagram page,” but he will be there. I love you dad.”
The Shopsin family moved their restaurant to the Lower East Side in 2008, after facing eviction from a space on Carmine Street. Like all of the other vendors in the Essex Street Market, they have been preparing to move into the newly expanded market on the south side of Delancey Street in October. Over the weekend, the family told a large circle of friends that Kenny Shopsin’s legacy would live on for years to come. The kids have been running the business during the past few months, as Kenny dealt with a series of health setbacks.
Here’s a sampling of yesterday’s coverage of Shopsin’s passing. The New York Times:
Kenny Shopsin, the colorful proprietor of a fabled Manhattan restaurant where the menu is vast and the customer has never been king, died on Sunday at his home in the West Village… (Shopsin’s) is now on the Lower East Side, but wherever it has been it has reflected the curmudgeonly, curse-word-employing personality of Mr. Shopsin, a man who was rarely written about without having the word “eccentric” appended to his name.
Cranky, nonconformist, uninhibited, seemingly driven by an internal engine of profane irascibility, (Shopsin) was a New York legend, part of the social architecture of the city, a wild-haired totem of a lower Manhattan that once was, before the degradation of Greenwich Village into a place of vacant luxury storefronts waiting to be reanimated by businesses able to pay five- or six-figure monthly rents.
Kenny Shopsin was the philosopher king of short-order cooks, a master of eggs, and a man for whom the word opinionated does not quite cut it… It’s a big loss for the city, since Shopsin was vulgar and gruff, with a boiling anger that was easily let loose — and one of the most admired chefs in New York.
Shopsin was the beating heart of the restaurant, often kicking customers out for minor infractions and creating arbitrary rules such as no ordering the same thing as anyone at the table, no tables larger than four, one child per customer, and no cellphones. He became famous for it. To dine at his restaurant was to submit to Shopsin’s whims, which resulted in a legendary 900-item menu, most known for its wacky pancake options such as one with mac and cheese.
Kenny and his wife, Eve, turned their West Village grocery into a restaurant in 1983. As the Times reported, he was born in the Bronx in 1942, and was completely self-trained as a chef. Eve died in 2003. In 2002, Calvin Trillin was granted special permission to write about Shopsin’s in the New Yorker. It’s a great read, if you’ve never seen the story.
We never dared violate the “no photos” rule at Shopsin’s! So thanks to Melinda Shopsin for allowing us to use the photo in this story.
The Shopsin family is encouraging people to share their memories of Kenny. You can do that here. One of the best ways to pay your respects is to continue eating at Shopsin’s. The restaurant is open in the Essex Street Market Wednesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.