Last month the almost 100-year-old appetizing institution Russ & Daughters announced their first expansion, a Russ & Daughters Café in New York City's Lower East Side.
Naturally, expanding after staying in one location for almost 100 years is a big move, especially with Russ & Daughters' history. We chatted with fourth-generation co-owner Niki Russ Federman at a French Institute Alliance Française talk last night about the reasons behind the café, plans for the menu, and whether or not you'll still see them slice that lox ever so thinly.
The Daily Meal: The Russ & Daughters appetizing store has such a specific experience. Why did you decide to expand that to a café?
Niki Russ Federman: For me, having a place where people can come together while having our food rounds out that experience, it creates a more complete experience. We have a whole new generation of young customers who don’t have a lot of money, who don’t live in big apartments. Back in the day you would go to the store, you would pick up the food, and you would have it at home with friends and family. A lot of people don’t have space to do that now; they want to have this food on site. I just felt compelled to finish the job in a way.
The Daily Meal: Are there things you are excited to do in the café that you couldn't do in the store?
NRF: We’re really trying to take Russ & Daughters and put it in plated form. You’re not just taking a sandwich to go but you're having a nice beautiful smoked fish plate, or a herring smorgasbord, or a caviar sampling. We’re not trying to reinvent ourselves or diverge from who we are, but we can now cook more and offer hot dishes. We’ll be cooking up a whole variety of egg dishes. You can have a runny scrambled eggs and caviar, you can have lox, eggs, and onions. Those are just things we can’t do in the store.
The Daily Meal: Part of the appeal of going to the appetizing store is to see the artisans slice the fish behind the counter. Will we get that at the café?
NRF: That is so critical to how we’re designing the space, trying to bring that counter experience and that human interaction to the new café. So there will be an open slicing area where you can watch the slicing happen, and actually you’ll be able to see it better than you can in the store. Right now you have to peek down and poke around, There, we’ll have a slicing counter [and] an old-school soda fountain making our egg creams. There’s going to be almost like a luncheonette counter where you can sit down as you’re watching all the food come together, and you still have that over-the-counter interaction.
The Daily Meal: You just started construction three weeks ago. Are you still looking at a February opening?
NRF: We're aiming for mid-February of next year... Literally we only started construction three weeks ago, and we’re already getting calls from people who want to rent it out for their big family reunion. Like, let’s get to opening day and then we can talk. It’s very reaffirming and exciting that there’s that kind of interest.
The new Russ & Daughters café will open on 127 Orchard St., three blocks from the original appetizing store.