The other night, devotees of the famed appetizing store Russ & Daughters (including Martha Stewart) came to the Astor Center for a special occasion. Mark Russ Federman, who ran the East Houston Street shop for over 30 years, was celebrating the release of his new book, “Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes From the House That Herring Built.”
Federman, a legendary schmoozer, took a moment away from signing copies of the book and kibitzing to pose with Niki Russ Federman, his daughter, and nephew Josh Russ Tupper, who took over the business in 2009. In brief remarks a few moments later, the reformed attorney who found greater fulfillment in one of New York’s iconic retail establishments, thanked his customers. Referring to the wide assortment of people from all walks of life who make the pilgrimage to Russ & Daughters, Federman said, “I did not have to go see the world because the world came to see me.”
The book has been getting rave reviews from critics enthralled with the story of a family business that has become a celebrated culinary institution. As Calvin Trillin notes in the forward, the shop is not just about perfect smoked fish and other delicacies. “When my daughters were small,” he writes, “I used to go to Russ & Daughters on Sunday mornings to have them appreciated.” Anyone who’s stopped by the store even once knows that it’s a place that excels in the lost art of personal service. Federman never forgot a face, and as the Times pointed out, managed to pick right up with a conversation that might have started six months earlier.
Twenty-five years ago, Federman resisted the temptation to move the store uptown, in spite of his dwindling customer base and the crime-ridden neighborhood. But Russ & Daughters hung on to ride the foodie tidal wave and to benefit from the transformation of the Lower East Side. Today, the store is thriving, as the next generation takes “slicing and schmoozing” to new heights. Lucky us.
If you’re interested in picking up a copy of the book, it’s available at the store (179 East Houston St.). Federman will be talking at the Tenement Museum next Wednesday evening.