The Appetizing Store: A Unique Part of Orchard Street’s Culinary History

February 21, 2017

We’re talking a walk down Orchard Street in New York City as you would have seen it during the Gilded Age, roughly 1870 until as late as 1930.

We’re going to talk about the appetizing store.  An appetizing store is so named because it sells foods that one would eat with bagels.  Think a lot of smoked fish and creamed cheeses.  Olives and sliced meats.  Fish.  A lot of fish.  An appetizing store would be the hot spot for immigrants looking for foods found in traditional recipes from back home.

Russ & Daughters
Photo credit: GmanViz via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND/Click for license/attribution

In this blog post, we’re going to feature one such store that while originally started on Orchard Street later moved around the corner to its current home at 179 East Houston Street.  We’re talking about Russ & Daughters.

Joel Russ, an immigrant from Poland, started the appetizing store in 1914.  He had begun his career selling out of a pushcart operation, a common practice for newly immigrated residents of the Lower East Side.  Having done so since his arrival in 1907, he was ready to embark on a true storefront by 1914 and opened the appetizing store.  He had to move the establish around the corner to 179 East Houston Street in 1920, and in 1935, he made a bold move when he brought his daughters in as partners of the business, changing the name of the business to reflect this new ownership dynamic.  According to the Russ & Daughters’ website, this is the first business to change ownership to daughters in America.

Russ & Daughters
Photo credit: wallyg via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND/ Click for license/attribution

Russ & Daughters is currently in its fourth generation of ownership and remains true to its appetizing store roots even after undergoing an expansion at the East Houston Street location and with the opening of the Russ & Daughters Cafe at 127 Orchard Street in 2014.

An appetizing store plays a key part in my current work in progress, and I enjoyed drawing on this unique establishment from New York City’s rich culinary history.  The heroine of the story encounters the wife of an Italian immigrant shopping at an appetizing store while she is looking for anchovies to put in puttanesca.  A historically accurate moment that allowed my heroine to come to the rescue.

Sources

Bowery Boys. “A Culinary Tour of the Lower East Side.” Audio blog post. The Bowery Boys. 18 April 2016. (A fantastic podcast that takes you around many establishments worth visiting in NYC!)

“History.” Russ & Daughters Cafe.

A Wild Goose Fast Chase.” Tenement Museum Blog.  Tenement Museum. 4 November 2013.

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