The Essex Street Market is a Lower East Side staple when it comes to fresh food and prepared goods. Meet the vendors in this profile series and swing by the market all month long during May to celebrate 75 years of Essex Street Market.
With tantalizing names for dishes like the Say Yesshort rib sandwich or the So GoodFrench toast, who can resist a meal from Shopsin’s in Essex Street Market?
Shopsin’s originated in Greenwich Village in 1971 as a grocery store, but has since evolved into a restaurant (and institution) serving an extensive variety of food in the Lower East Side. While extensive is perhaps an understatement—there are hundreds of menu possibilities—diners can be assured that they will receive a distinctly New York eating experience.
We spoke with Melinda Shopsin, chef Kenny Shopsin’s daughter, about why their family-owned business loves being based out of Essex Street Market.
Owners: The Shopsin Family
Business name: Shopsin’s General Store
Market start: Since 2007
Product sold: Breakfast and lunch, encompassing many cuisines and a variety of items. See their enormous menu!
Why did you start Shopsin’s in Essex Street Market?
My mom and dad started the business. Originally it was a grocery in the west village. When the rent went up, they decided to become a restaurant. We were there for years, but then got evicted. So we moved into a huge, new, beautiful space. We were always busy and just cranked out the pancakes to pay the rent. The West Village was changing so much, with head shops turning into Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren stores. That’s not bad, it’s just not our thing.
I fell in love in Essex Street Market when my friend Annie (of Saxelby Cheesemongers) moved in. It’s such a diverse community with so much character. It reminds me of what I grew up with in my neighborhood and what had started to disappear.
I would visit Annie and think, “I want to be here all the time. I love this place.” I saw the market as a place to be sustainable, where we wouldn’t have to worry about rent hikes. When the opportunity arose, we moved in.
What is your favorite memory at the market?
I don’t have any particular memory, but the best times are when I’m interacting with the other vendors. They take so much pride in the goods that they sell and they’re great people.
What is Shopsin’s specialty?
Our specialty has changed over the years. Back at the original location, we used to be known for our soups. We had hundreds of them. My favorite is African Green Curry Soup. My dad made it up but it has Thai green curry, peanut butter, and vegetables. When I’m away from New York, it’s the dish that I crave.
Now we cater to a different crowd, and right now the most popular items are our sliders and the macaroni and cheese pancakes.
Tell us a little more about these famous Mac and Cheese Pancakes.
The Mac and Cheese Pancakes are great. A little salty, a little sweet, some hot sauce, some maple syrup.
My dad invented them. There was a little boy who came into the store with his family and every morning he would either have pancakes or mac and cheese for breakfast. Every day my dad would ask, “Which do you want this morning?” until one day my dad said he would choose what he received. And he came back with Mac & Cheese Pancakes! The kid loved them, we all loved them. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t made them before!
What is your favorite time of the week at the market and why?
I love the early morning because that’s when the regulars come. The first seating is always the same people. I like all our customers but it’s a special feeling when everyone there is talking to each other and you know everyone. It’s hard to find that in New York now. It’s a super nice warm fuzzy feeling. We welcome everyone. It’s not that hard to become a regular.
Do you source any products from within the market?
We buy so much in the market: meat, fish, veggies, cheese, and chocolate. It’s all so fresh and good. We get rye bread from Pain d’Avignon, which is wonderful because it’s so hard to find good rye bread these days and we have it fresh every day.
Of course, we get some things from outside vendors, like eggs because we go through so many of them. But for most of our food, my brother takes his list around the market every morning and gets what he needs. We ask the grocer for a case of onions, avocados—whatever it is—and they send them over.
If we run out of something during a rush, we just go buy more. Sometimes we’ll buy meat or shrimp twice in a day, or even three times. It keeps our waste down and everything is fresh. Plus we don’t spend all the time doing inventory. I wouldn’t want to go back to the old way of stocking and taking inventory and worrying about running out of food and then having to waste food.
Are there any fun facts about your business?
My twin sister Tamara and I usually work at different times, so people don’t realize that there are two of us. We look different, but I can see how you’d think we were the same person. Sometimes we work together and people get so confused!
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