This isn’t the first time Russ & Daughters has expanded, but it’s a major one: The Jewish appetizing stalwart is officially open in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, occupying 18,000-square-feet of space in hopes of taking the historic business to the next level.
There are a few unimpeachable institutions in New York City — Peter Luger, Katz’s, Keens, Grand Central Oyster Bar — and the Lower East Side Russ & Daughters is one of them. Any changes, no matter how small, cause a frenzy over how a beloved icon might evolve away from the nostalgic perfection in every customer’s memory. It’s something co-owners and cousins Niki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper take very seriously.
“We want to preserve the tradition, the quality, the recipes, the experience of 105 years of history,” Federman says. “In order to do that, we have to stay relevant and have the infrastructure to do that. It’s this interesting dance that we do constantly of, how do you maintain 105 years of history and keep it moving forward at the same time?”
Their answer has come in very measured starts: a sit-down cafe on the LES opened in 2014, then another shop inside the Upper East Side Jewish museum. Now, progress comes in the form of this Navy Yard location, which they’re calling an “appetizing factory.” It grew out of frustration that the original LES store couldn’t accommodate as many orders as it received, especially around holidays. This location can fulfill many more orders, as well as offer delivery in Brooklyn.
In terms of the actual experience, the Navy Yard outpost is quite similar to the LES shop. Diners can order smoked fish, candy, and other treats from the counter. What’s different is there are tables at which to eat the food and an entire bakery area dedicated to bagels, babka, challah, and other baked goods made on site. Apricot rugelach is the one new item.
But the crux of this location lies in what the public cannot see. About 15,000 of the 18,000-square-feet there holds a kitchen area, baking operations, storage space, flagship offices, shipping facilities, loading docks, and extra room to grow. Eventually they’ll open a 4,000-square-foot events space for up to 250 people.
The cousins bought the family business in 2010, and have since been subtly updating it. While their family owns the LES building so there is no threat of being thrown out by a landlord, they firmly believe that “stagnation is death,” Federman says.
The Navy Yard appealed because of its history and owner, the cousins say. The property is owned by the city of New York, and it’s operated by a non-profit called the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, whose mission is to create area jobs. Russ & Daughters is surrounded here by office workers, retail shops, and other food and drink businesses such as Brooklyn Roasting Company and Kings County Distillery. Federman and Tupper liked that it’s not a profit-hungry landlord. All in all, it’s a 300-acre facility, and they just signed on to be a part of it for at least 20 years.
“Without challenging ourselves, we wouldn’t be able to keep the business present and interesting while continuing to feel the same passion,” Tupper says. “We want to spread the word and the love of Russ & Daughters food to as many people as we can.”