Copyright Fuzheado

Zabar’s is a specialty food store which opened in 1934 and moved to Broadway between 80th and 81st Streets in 1941. The building started life as the Calvin Apartments, four three-story structures erected in 1882, and stood out like a sore thumb among the elegant, freestanding mansions which characterized upper Broadway at the time.

In 1890, developer Christian Blinn sold it to real estate investor Julia Schwarz, and in 1892, he entered a loonybin. He filed suit against her in 1901, claiming he’d been insane and had no knowledge about the sale.

The jury couldn’t decide, so the judge ruled in favor of Ms. Schwarz.

Copyright Fuzheado

In 1919, Ms. Schwarz leased the building for $30,000 a year to the C&L Lunch Company, and commissioned architects Whinston & Whinston to remodel and combine the four buildings into one complex. A small apartment on the next lot north, built 1890, was also included.

The Tudor-style Calvin Apartments opened in 1920. In addition to being beautifully decorated both inside and out, they promised on-premise dining. They were very expensive, with two-room apartments going for $165 a month ($2,134.09 today).

In the 1920s, the average NYC rent was only $40 a month, and houses sold for $15 a square foot. Not exactly apartments intended for normal people!

Enter Louis and Lillian Zabar.

Louis Zabar was born in Ukraine in 1901 and came to the U.S. via Canada in the early 1920s, after his dad was murdered in a pogrom. Lillian Teit was probably born in 1902 or 1903, though she pretended to be younger when she immigrated from Ukraine in the mid-Twenties, fearful she’d be deported for being too old.

Lillian lived with relatives in Philadelphia, and Louis lived in Brooklyn, where he rented a stall in a farmers’ market. Later, Louis became head of a grocery’s smoked fish section. When Lillian moved to NYC, she and Louis renewed their old acquaintance from their hometown and married 2 May 1927.

They started a deli in Brooklyn, selling Lillian’s wonderful homemade foods, among them stuffed cabbage, blintzes, coleslaw, and potato salad. When the couple moved to Manhattan, they set up shop in the third building north from 80th St. in the old Calvin Apartments. By that time, the complex had become a hotel.

By the time of his death in 1950, Louis owned ten Manhattan markets.

Oldest son Saul (born 1929), a med student at the University of Kansas, came home to help the family business. He thought he’d only be there for a few years, but it turned into the rest of his life. Saul became the store’s president, and middle brother Stanley became vice-president after graduating the University of Pennsylvania.

Youngest brother Eli operates his own food businesses.

In 1953, entrepreneur Murray Klein (1923–2007) joined Zabar’s and began transforming it from a small deli to one of the city’s most renowned specialty markets. He started as a floor sweeper and stock clerk, and quit several times, but eventually became a full partner in 1960.

In the 1970s, there were plans to buy a building on the west side of Broadway between 82nd and 83rd Streets, but hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) enabled them to buy the entire former Calvin Apartments instead and expand that way. They also gained the rooms upstairs, which were once the Cedar Hotel.

Copyright Nate Steiner

Mr. Klein knew the store’s core clientele and most loyal customers were Ashkenazic Jews who went there for things like lox, pastrami, bagels, and babka, but he also knew good businesses need to draw more than one demographic.

To gain the patronage of a wider patronage seeking sophisticated food, he offered things like brie, caviar, white truffles, and gourmet chocolate. He also began selling household wares. Even more unusually, he sold at below-market prices and at a loss, even for luxury foods.

Copyright Rob Young

Zabar’s hasn’t yet featured in my books, but I look forward to including it.

More information:

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery is a culinary staple of the Lower East Side. Like many other proletarian businesspeople of the era, Romanian immigrant Rabbi Yonah Schimmel used a pushcart to hawk his wares (made by his wife) when he started in 1890. He originally worked on Coney Island.

Locals loved his offerings, so much so Rabbi Schimmel and his cousin Joseph Berger were soon able to rent a little store on Houston St. (It’s pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the Texas city.) Rabbi Schimmel left to teach Hebrew two years later, but Mr. Berger kept the bakery’s name the same.

Copyright Nbarth

In 1910, the bakery moved to the south side of Houston, between First and Second Avenues. By this time, Mr. Berger’s wife Rose (also Rabbi Schimmel’s daughter; no comment!) co-ran the business. Back then, the bakery was on the ground level of a five-story tenement.

There were soon so many knisheries on the Lower East Side, a price war erupted in 1916. This was such a serious matter, state investigator William Groat held hearings regarding a knish cartel in 1928. One of the traditional knish fillings is kasha, buckwheat groats, so his surname was quite appropriate!

Copyright Urbankayaker

According to Milton Glaser and Jerome Snyder’s 1968 “Underground Eats” column in New York Magazine, “No New York politician in the last fifty years has been elected to public office without having at least one photograph taken showing him on the Lower East Side with a knish in his face.” To this day, that declaration is taped above a counter.

Just to give a few examples, Theodore Roosevelt came for kasha knishes when he was the city’s police commissioner, and Eleanor Roosevelt made many campaign stops at Schimmel’s on her husband’s behalf.

In addition to offering delicious knishes, Schimmel’s has also been the subject of several artworks. Jewish–Irish artist Harry Kernoff painted it in 1939, and the Museum of the City of New York has a 1976 oil painting by Hedy Pagremanski on permanent display.

Over the last 110 years, the menu has largely remained the same, and the recipe is unchanged, though prices have naturally risen. Knishes aren’t the only thing on the menu either. Schimmel’s also offers matzah ball soup, kugel, latkes, bagels, borshcht, and egg creams.

Traditional knish fillings are kasha, onion and mashed potatoes, and cheese. Though they’re still the most popular, modern diners can also choose from jalapeño, blueberry, apple, chocolate, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, cherry, and mushroom.

Copyright Eric Hunt

Schimmel’s is still a family business, now run by Alex Wolfson and his daughter Ellen Anistratov. On his second day in America in 1979, Mr. Wolfson (Rabbi Schimmel’s great-nephew) began working as a busboy.

My characters Igor Konev and Violetta Likachëva go to Schimmel’s on some of their dates. It’s casual without being a hole in the wall, and conveniently located. Violetta lives in Greenwich Village, and Igor lives in the northern part of the Lower East Side (the area which later seceded and rebranded itself the so-called East Village).

More information:

Katz’s Delicatessen

Copyright Beyond My Ken

In 1888, Katz’s Delicatessen began its life on Ludlow St. in the Lower East Side as Iceland Brothers. In 1903, Willy Katz joined the business, and it was renamed Iceland & Katz. In 1910, Willy’s cousin Ben came aboard and bought out the Icelands. Katz’s Delicatessen was officially born.

In April 1917, landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the partnership. The deli was forced to relocate across the street due to subway construction, though its Ludlow entrance remained the same. Barrels of pickles and meat were stored at a vacant lot on Houston St. (The Manhattan street is pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas.)

From 1946–49, that Houston St. vacant lot added the current façade, and the operation shifted from Ludlow St.

Copyright TaurusEmerald

The Lower East Side is famous as a huge immigrant hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, esp. in regards to its Jewish population. So many immigrants lived in the LES, it’s a popular misconception that that was the ONLY place immigrants lived.

Some people expressed great surprise to learn only one branch of my family tree lived in NYC after immigrating, and that they barely spent any time there. Based on their own family histories and the popular narrative, they believed all immigrants settled in the city.

However, many immigrants did live in the LES, and Katz’s became an important community meeting-place. During the heyday of Yiddish theatre, the deli was frequented by actors, comedians, and singers. On Fridays, everyone convened on Katz’s for franks and beans.

Copyright Shinya Suzuki

During WWII, in response to the owners’ sons serving in the Army, the company’s slogan became “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” This slogan was coined by Rose Tarowsky, whose son Izzy was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific.

When Willy Katz passed away, his son Lenny took over. Then, in 1980, both Harry Tarowsky and Ben Katz passed, leaving the deli to Izzy Tarowsky and Artie Maxstein (Ben’s son-in-law). Because this second generation had no offspring of their own to bequeath Katz’s to, they let their good friend and restaurateur Martin Dell, his chef son Alan, and his son-in-law Fred Austin buy into the partnership in 1988, on the deli’s centenary.

In late 2009, Alan’s son Jake officially joined the team and is now the acting head.

Copyright Beleg Langbogen

In connection with Katz’s 125th anniversary in 2013, a pop-up art gallery opened next door, featuring artwork by locals. The art rotates on a monthly basis.

Continuing the tradition begun during WWII, Katz’s continues to send gift packages to troops overseas.

In 2017, Katz’s finally opened a second location in Downtown Brooklyn.

Copyright Urbankayaker

Patrons are handed a numbered, printed ticket upon entering. While they get food from the various stations throughout the deli, employees keep a running tab. If one loses a ticket, a $50 fine is added to the bill. Management wants to encourage patrons to go back through the store to try to find the ticket to prevent theft.

Sadly, Katz’s is no longer kosher. Some of the ingredients start out kosher, but aren’t used, prepared, or served according to the laws of Kashrut. Their biggest violation is serving meat and dairy together. Not all the meat is certified kosher anymore either. Though Katz’s never pretended to be strictly kosher, it wasn’t that bad!

Copyright Dizzledan

Copyright City Foodsters

My characters Igor Konev and Violetta Likachëva go to Katz’s for several dates. It’s conveniently located, since Violetta lives in Greenwich Village, and Igor lives with his great-aunt in the northern Lower East Side (the area which later seceded as the so-called East Village).

What’s Up Wednesday

Ready Set Write

As part of their What’s Up Wednesday feature, Elodie NowodazkijAlison MillerKaty UppermanErin Funk, and Jaime Morrow will be hosting a summer-long initiative called Ready. Set. Write! Participants will share weekly, monthly, or overall goals in the “What I’m Writing” section of the weekly posts.

What I’m Writing

I’m now up to almost 440,000 words of my WIP. It’s June 1940, and Lyuba and Ivan’s dear old friend Pyotr Litvinov and his baby sister Yaroslava have just defected to Hudiksvall, Sweden. In the first book, Pyotr risked his life and double-crossed his father and older brothers to get Lyuba, Ivan, Tatyana, and nine other people out of the Soviet Union and to safety in America. Now Pyotr feels it’s time to get out himself, while he’s still in a position to do so with relative ease.

In the next chapter, 54, “Joyful Interlude,” Lyuba and Ivan’s first son Fedya, Ivan’s first blood child, will graduate high school and move to New York to attend Columbia. Kat and Nikolas’s firstborn twins Lyudmila and Raisa will also graduate and move back to the city to attend Barnard. Of course, Fedya’s studies will be interrupted midway through his sophomore year, when he joins the Army together with his cousin Vasya and age-mate uncle Osyenka.

Also in this chapter, sweet little Valentina Kuchma is going to marry her equally-sweet boyfriend Rodya Duranichev. More romance will follow in the next chapter, when young widow Inessa finds a second chance at love with her foster son Damir’s surviving parent Vitya, her old friend Inna’s little brother. Vitya is finally able to leave Persia for America, with his now-6-year-old daughter Velira. It’s just such a natural coupling, and ensures Damir won’t lose the only mother he’s ever known.

What Inspires Me

I’ve got some album anniversaries, though it’s been a number of years since I last followed my long-standing custom of listening to the album as I wrote a journal entry about it. I just got too many albums, and wanted to journal about other things instead of being bound to one topic for certain days.

24 July is my 6-year anniversary with Living in the Material World, the amazing follow-up to All Things Must Pass. This is one of George’s best solo albums besides ATMP, which is in a class all by itself. Such a beautiful love song to the Divine, and to humanity. He was so at his creative prime here, really having come into his own as a songwriter. I’ve also never heard his voice more beautiful. Too bad it was all shot to Hell on the follow-up Dark Hoarse (I mean Dark Horse).

It’s also my 5-year anniversary for Rio and Thirty-Three & 1/3, another of George’s solo albums. Thank God, with that record, he finally got his groove back after Dark Horse and Extra Texture. The less said about Extra Texture, the better! I was embarrassed for George during the three times I played it. A beautiful voice doesn’t cancel out a crappy song.

Life is nothing if not full of surprises. I only got Rio since it was just $2 and I wanted to indulge my Eighties nostalgia. It didn’t do much for me the first few times I played it, partly because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the songs. I suppose I’d been expecting something different. Then two and a half years later, while I was writing Little Ragdoll, I started becoming a Duranie. That story is far too long and off-topic for this post! The moral of the story is to never discount anything. You never know what interests you might develop, or what kinds of seeds are being planted to be awakened at a later date.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Still no stove, so I’m eating at my parents’ house, eating foods that don’t need prepared, or eating out. My roommate went to the rental office to ask for a new stove, since she thought the existing one were too difficult to kasher, and they told her we’d get a new stove delivered. You don’t have to tell me this should’ve been taken care of at the start of the month! Hopefully the new stove will arrive soon and I can finally start cooking and baking.

I had to give the following to my parents for storage: A pretty nice toaster oven, a Teflon frying pan they gave me, a small Teflon cookie sheet I used maybe twice, a nice bamboo spoon, a set of utensils with black plastic handles, a nice grater with a plastic measuring cup you can attach to the bottom to catch what you’re grating, two nice glazed earthenware mugs, a set of four earthenware plates matching one of the mugs, and a set of two bowls matching them.

All those materials are cool to be kashered by non-Orthodox standards. They were all in storage for 4 years, and most of them were only used at the apartment I had for a few months in 2009. They were considered tainted by association, simply because I used them in a non-kosher kitchen. All the other kitchenware needs kashered or toveled in a mikvah. Thank God I never used some of my kitchenware, since I’d have even more things tainted by association!

What’s Up Wednesday

Ready Set Write

As part of their What’s Up Wednesday feature, Elodie NowodazkijAlison MillerKaty UppermanErin Funk, and Jaime Morrow will be hosting a summer-long initiative called Ready. Set. Write! Participants will share weekly, monthly, or overall goals in the “What I’m Writing” section of the weekly posts.

What I’m Writing

I finally finished Part II of my WIP, and am into Part III, at around 434,000 words. So far, the chapters are shorter, which makes me happy. I’d like to not go over 550,000 words for the total length, and am hoping I won’t need too many longer than average chapters from now on. Chapter 51, the conclusion of Part II, ended up the longest chapter of the book to date, at around 15,000 words.

I’ll be needing to do a lot of research for Part III, like on wartime rationing, the overall timeline, the Nazi invasion of Iran, the experiences of American soldiers, and certain battles. I feel really bad for one of my characters, who’s going to join the Marines and eventually lose an arm at Saipan while trying to protect his best friend.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t really had much time to devote to reading, in the midst of moving and working at camp. I did however unload most of my most important/interesting books onto my bookshelf. and am going to have to buy another to fit in more of my favorite books. Thank God, my nightmare did not come true, and my ex’s controlling, overbearing Harpy mommy did NOT touch any of my things in storage in her basement. I’ll be back there later to pick up more of my stuff.

What Inspires Me

I think the fact that I’ve so seamlessly gone back to being a spinster, and that everyone I’ve updated/told about my no longer being with the walking DSM has been extremely understanding, sympathetic, and supportive. Many of these people had known I was very frustrated and unhappy with the relationship, and had urged me to seek greener pastures. Almost no men have ever seen me as more than a friend, one of the guys, so I don’t have high hopes for marriage. At least single women can openly go to the sperm bank nowadays, and my left hand works in place of a lover. I’m really not bitter or angry at being a spinster, since I was never particularly interested in dating or marriage anyway. If it happens again, it happens. I live vicariously through my characters who do have normal, happy romances and marriages.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Last week the entire camp went on a trip to Saratoga, to their Children’s Museum, followed by a nice fish lunch at the local Chabad House and a walk to Congress Park to ride the historic indoor carousel. I wish I could’ve spent more time there, but I wasn’t on my own schedule, and you can only do so many things with the nursery bunk. On Monday of this week, we went to the mall for a new glow in the dark mini-golf course. The nursery kids didn’t really understand how to play golf properly, but they seemed to have a nice time.

I still can’t use the kitchen in my new apartment, since no one has kashered it yet. I didn’t realize how machmir (strict) my roommate is about kashrut, and she in turn didn’t realize that I have a more lenient view. I had to give some kitchenware to my parents for storage, since according to Orthodox (but NOT Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist standards), Teflon and wood can’t be kashered. I also might have to give them a lot of my other kitchenware for storage, if the Orthodox rabbi who had BETTER finally come in doesn’t think certain materials can be kashered.

Honestly, I’m not spending my money on buying all new pots, pans, tableware, etc., just because I happened to use most of it in non-kosher kitchens. I don’t have that kind of money, and it’s not like I ever taste non-kosher food when I cook with things that were used in non-kosher ovens or on top of non-kosher stoves. I was only Reform for a few years at the beginning, but there are certain Reform customs or views I’ve never abandoned. Focusing on the spirit over the letter of certain laws is one of them. I personally won’t stop eating at non-kosher restaurants or homes, or give away perfectly good (in some cases, barely used) kitchenware.

For the last 11 years, since my senior year of university, I’ve been straddling the fence between Conservative and Orthodox. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully resolve these conflicting urges, and really don’t like the idea of putting just one label on my spiritual life.