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Russ & Daughters by Mark Russ Federman
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Russ & Daughters

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Russ & Daughters by Mark Russ Federman
Hardcover $28.95
Mar 05, 2013 | ISBN 9780805242942

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“If you’ve ever lived in New York or have any affection for a bagel and lox, you’ll appreciate this look at one of New York’s most iconic food stores. Federman’s history of his family and his store will give you a crazy feeling of nostalgia, even if you weren’t yet born during the times he describes.”
—Huffington Post, Best Food Books of 2013

“The only thing better than this forshpayz of memories, photographs, and recipes would be a trip to East Houston Street to ‘the house that herring built.’ ”
—Dawn Drzal, The New York Times Book Review

“Federman’s voice pops from the page. . . . Russ & Daughters is a good story well told, packed with zinging Yiddishisms and better-than-average jokes that bubble up organically. You soak in it, like brine, until you’re pleasantly pickled.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“For centuries on end philosophers have tried and failed to define the good life. Federman’s life as revealed here can hardly be reduced to a set of impersonal abstractions, but if philosophers are willing to settle for a case in point rather than a developed theory, let them read his marvelous book.”
—Jason Epstein, The Wall Street Journal
“With crisp and evocative details worthy of a Malamud short story, Federman conveys an avuncular ardor for the feisty characters on both sides of the Russ & Daughters counter. . . . He has turned over a bounty of fish tales, immigrant lore, family photos, and recipes, assembling them into a memoir as abundant in charm as the Russ inventory is in gastronomic seductions.”
—Jan Stuart, The Boston Globe
“Much like its author, the Russ & Daughters book is blunt and breezy. Along with family history and Russ & Daughters lore, Federman shares recipes from the haute (lox chowder) to the humble (classic egg cream). There’s also a glossary of fish that’s as much social history as culinary reference—who knew sturgeon once figured in a federal bribery investigation?”
—Michael Kaminer, New York Daily News
“A charming tale of  a Jewish immigrant family whose business grew from humble pushcart origins to the internationally known powerhouse it is today. [The book] bottles Federman’s talent as a master schmoozer and offers a nibble at the Russ & Daughters experience for those who can’t make it to New York’s Lower East Side on a regular basis.”
“Federman is an engaging narrator, and his consideration of his grandfather’s rise in the world of herring is both honest and charming. . . . He traced his family history by visiting rabbis and aged aunts, talking with longtime customers, and calling on his memory of a childhood spent in the shop. Now that his daughter and nephew run the store, Federman has enough distance to talk about his years behind the counter and write this thoughtful history of both a family and a neighborhood.”
—The Brooklyn Rail

“When I was a child, my father and I would often stop at Russ & Daughters on Sundays, on our way to Brooklyn to visit cousins.  It was there, in that friendly, wonderful store, that I learned the difference between nova and lox, poppy seed and plain, cream cheese and farmer cheese, sable and sturgeon.  And now I am continuing the family tradition.  Jude, my two-year-old granddaughter, just visited the store and started learning about the many types of herring, which she loves.  I will start reading this book to her just as soon as she can enjoy a bagel with Baltic salmon and cream cheese.”
—Martha Stewart

“The grandson of the founder of J. Russ Cut Rate Appetizing (the name changed to Russ & Daughters in 1935) tells a remarkable story of family foresight and resiliency, and gives fascinating details of early life among the teeming streets of New York’s Lower East Side in the first decades of the century. . . . Including precious pictures and recipes, this work offers a savory wealth of social history, told humorously and endearingly.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The best thing in the world is to go to Russ & Daughters. The next-best thing in the world is to read Russ & Daughters.”
—Oliver Sacks

“Forget the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty . . . New York City’s  greatest living institution is very likely Russ & Daughters: a temple of uniquely New York deliciousness, Zen-like perfection, and a repository of generations of wisdom and experience.  Mark Russ Federman’s book is a story not just about the food that made New York great, but a deeply felt personal history. When visiting a new city for the first time, I’ve always asked the question: ‘What do they do here better than anywhere else?’ When visiting New York City for the first time, the answer is always ‘Russ & Daughters.’ ”
—Anthony Bourdain

Author Q&A

What do you think your ancestors would say about your having put the Russ family story to paper? What does your mother think of all of it?
My ancestors might say: “Who knew you could become a celebrity from herring?” My Mother has said:  “What’s taking you so long?  Hurry up and finish the book.  Your Aunt Hattie and I want to be around when the book is released.”{Mom will be 92 this year; Aunt Hattie turns 100 in two months.}
What do you miss most about the day-to-day in the store?
The daily drama; and, me being in the center of that drama.
How does it feel to go from being a deli-man for half a century to a published author? It’s quite a career change!
First, let it be clear that I am not a “deli man” and Russ & Daughters is not a “deli.”  We are an “appetizing store,” and I— in case you haven’t noticed—am an “appetizing man.”  Going from lex to lox was easier than going from retail to writing.  It turns out that writing is even harder than retail and just about everything is harder than practicing law.
How (if at all) has your perception of Russ & Daughters changed after having gone back and turned a journalistic eye to the birth and development of the store?
I have found out that Russ & Daughters is a special place with a real soul.  It’s hard to appreciate that while you’re actually running the store.
Was there anything surprising you discovered in your research? 
I discovered that my ancestors were a lot smarter than I had thought.
How has the store, itself, changed over your lifetime?
Everything has changed: the customers, the employees, the products and the neighborhood.  Even the way we do business: what was done across the counter can now be done across cyberspace.
The Lower East Side has gone through significant changes since Russ & Daughters opened in 1914—what was once a neighborhood predominantly inhabited by Jewish immigrants is now an epicenter of many different races and religions. How has the R&D clientele changed along with these developments, and how did the store maintain its popularity throughout the neighborhood’s transformations?
We were once a Jewish family owning a store selling Jewish foods to a Jewish clientele in a Jewish neighborhood. Just about everything in that statement has changed except that we are still the Russ Family.  With our name over the door we continue to be responsible for perfectly lining up customers, countermen, and fish hundreds of times a day.
In your opinion, what has been the key to Russ & Daughters’ success? A 99 year old store is truly something special in a city that is constantly searching for the next best thing.
In each generation a Russ that chooses to come into the business and is passionately devoted to preserving the quality of the products and the service is the key to our survival and our success. Having the next generation choose to do for a living what you have done is the ultimate validation of your life’s work. Watching your kid slice lox, now that’s real success.
What’s your typical order at the store?
A pound of nova, cut it thin, my son- the-doctor is coming for brunch.
What’s next for you? Do you plan to keep writing?
I already have a title for my next book: “Sex Symbol of the Herring World.” It’s a work of fiction.

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