Iconic New York City restaurateur Kenny Shopsin has died. The owner of Shopsin’s General Store was known for his outsized personality and love for old New York as he ran the quirky diner inside Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. The cause of death has not been released.
Opened in 1973, Shopsin’s General Store started as a grocery in Greenwich Village before turning into the diner it is now, ending up in the Essex Street Market. Shopsin was the beating heart of the restaurant, often kicking customers out for minor infractions and creating arbitrary rules such as no ordering the same thing as anyone at the table, no tables larger than four, one child per customer, and no cellphones. He became famous for it.
To dine at his restaurant was to submit to Shopsin’s whims, which resulted in a legendary 900-item menu, most known for its wacky pancake options such as one with mac and cheese. In a memoir about her life growing up in Shopsin’s General Store, Shopsin’s daughter Tamara recounts stories such as Shopsin throwing flour in a health inspector’s face or a server pouring soda over a “disobliging” customer’s head.
Shopsin’s quick wit and sometimes grouchy personality was widely covered in his life, most famously by writer Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker in 2002. Trillin wrote:
One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.
”It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.
”They were nothing but strangers,” he said.
”I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”
Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.
Beyond the restaurant, Shopsin starred in a 2004 documentary about the restaurant and wrote a cookbook in 2008 called Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. “My approach ... is the exact opposite of ‘the customer is always right,’” he wrote in the book.
There have been an outpouring of remembrances on social media for the legendary man. The restaurant will continue on without its leader, with his children running operations as the Essex Street Market moves its tenants across the street this fall. Daughter Tamara confirms the restaurant will be open for business on Wednesday. Shopsin leaves behind five children. His wife Eve died in 2003.