The fascinating, mouthwatering story (with ten recipes!) of the immigrant family that created a New York gastronomic legend: “The most rambunctious and chaotic of all delicatessens, with one foot in the Old World and the other in the vanguard of every fast-breaking food move in the city" (Nora Ephron, best-selling author and award-winning screenwriter).
When Louis and Lilly Zabar rented a counter in a dairy store on 80th Street and Broadway in 1934 to sell smoked fish, they could not have imagined that their store would eventually occupy half a city block and become a beloved mecca for quality food of all kinds. A passion for perfection, a keen business sense, cutthroat competitive instincts, and devotion to their customers led four generations of Zabars to create the Upper West Side shrine to the cheese, fish, meat, produce, baked goods, and prepared products that heralded the twentieth-century revolution in food production and consumption.
Lori Zabar—Louis’s granddaughter—begins with her grandfather’s escape from Ukraine in 1921, following a pogrom in which several family members were killed. She describes Zabar’s gradual expansion, Louis’s untimely death in 1950, and the passing of the torch to Saul, Stanley, and partner Murray Klein, who raised competitive pricing to an art form and added top-tier houseware and appliances. She paints a delectable portrait of Zabar’s as it is today—the intoxicating aromas, the crowds, the devoted staff—and shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the long-time employees, family members, eccentric customers, and celebrity fans who have created a uniquely American institution that honors its immigrant roots, revels in its New York history, and is relentless in its devotion to the art and science of selling gourmet food.
About the Author
LORI ZABAR was an art, decorative arts, and architectural historian; a historic preservationist; and an attorney. She was for many years a researcher in the American Wing and the Modern and Contemporary Art department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as an independent curator and consultant. She passed away in February 2022.
“A loving portrait of a business family, Zabar’s is not a tell-all but, rather, an embrace-all . . . Recipes round out each chapter . . . Longtime staffers are honored, their names and stories pointing to how far Zabar’s has come, from a Jewish-American produce stall to a global culinary destination filled with products and staffed by people from the world over.” —Rien Fertel, The Wall Street Journal
“A touching and well-researched paean to the Zabar family [and] a love letter to the business empire they created. It encompasses a history of Ukrainian pogroms in the early twentieth century, an exploration of the New York City grocery industry in the 1940s, and a discussion of the exploding gastronomic scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Family stories and photographs are deftly woven throughout, and some of Lilly Zabar’s recipes are included . . . A beguiling stroll through New York history and a fascinating glimpse into an ambitious family.” —Jessica Howard, Shelf Awareness
“A loving and yet surprisingly candid history of the store and the family, complete with recipes for store favorites such as Lilly Zabar’s sweet noodle kugel, flanken soup, and, of course, chopped liver . . . This is a joyful book, made poignant when you learn that Lori Zabar died a few months before its publication. One way to honor her memory is to try your hand at making that sweet noodle kugel.” —Jim Kelly, Air Mail “A delicious, overstuffed history of the family and the store, including the precarious early days and the legendary price battles . . . And then there are the family recipes and the stories behind the company’s almost infinite inventory of smoked fish, baked goods, herring, coffee, pastrami, and more. But mostly it’s about the tenacity of Zabar’s—and of the Zabars. Lori Zabar has written a loving and loveable book that captures the unique culinary and cultural cachet that the store still holds.” —Beth Segal, Hadassah
“Meticulously researched and beautifully written . . . There are brushes with the law, squabbles among the partners, and a vividly drawn cast of characters . . . Interwoven are fascinating descriptions of the foods sold at Zabar’s—the ins and outs of herring, salmon, coffee, and caviar . . . The recipes that end each chapter, passed down from the matriarch of this estimable culinary family, feel like a gift . . . Thanks to Lori Zabar, Louis and Lilly Zabar’s story will inspire and entertain generations to come.” —Liza Schoenfein, Forward
“Like the world-renowned store itself, Zabar’s is overflowing—chock-full of family history, behind-the-scenes views of the store, traditional recipes and, most of all, how to offer the very best food at the lowest possible price . . . A detailed and fascinating look at how the store pursues perfection even as it expands it selections.” —Maron L. Waxman, Jewish Book Council
“I lived three blocks from Zabar’s for fifty years, but knew little about the business and how it had come to be. Much of my curiosity has been satisfied by this detailed history of the family and the store. A historic preservationist, Lori Zabar was determined to be accurate and inclusive, and to her credit she makes no attempt to smooth the rough edges of her family history . . . She also gives readers insight into the ways in which children of immigrants somehow managed to retain their family ties and traditions even as they moved into the American mainstream.” —Gloria Levitas, Moment
“Lori Zabar’s wonderful book is the story of America. Her family went from Eastern European immigrants to wildly successful businesspeople in just a few generations. I love this book, and the Zabar’s recipes are a delicious bonus!” —Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa
“A must-read for anyone who has ever stepped foot in this New York City landmark, and a way for everyone else to find out what they’ve been missing.” —Nicolas Heller (“NewYorkNico”)
“When I think of New York City and the impact of the food culture here, it goes without saying that Zabar’s is at the top of the list. You truly can’t say you have experienced New York City without having gone to the world-famous delicatessen on the Upper West Side.” —Marcus Samuelsson, chef, author, and restaurateur
“Historian Zabar provides a fascinating history of ‘one of the most famous delicatessens in the world’ [and] a pop culture icon . . . [T]he many devoted patrons of this legendary food purveyor will find themselves sated . . . A delicious story.” —Publishers Weekly
“In this charming family memoir, Lori Zabar documents every chapter in the store’s history, from its inception in 1934 through its international expansion today, along with a goodly dozen recipes (latkes, chopped liver, sweet noodle kugel). This history comprises photographs and anecdotes, with tales of celebrities and ordinary people: Leonard Bernstein was denied delivery of Zabar’s foodstuffs; an employee’s ashes were buried in a store plant (and remain there today). With Zabar’s telling comes an education in retailing as well as in gourmet goods.” —Booklist