Zabar’s is New York, and New York is Zabar’s
Saul Zabar (on the left) with his brother, Stanley Zabar
Zabar’s Specialty Food Store offers a trip back into time and American culinary history. It’s a place where traditions and values of yesteryear are intact, and where business is still conducted with high standards, respect, and overall excellence. A New York institution for over 70 years, Zabar’s stands proudly at Broadway and 80th Street in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Upon entering Zabar’s, all senses are engaged as you see, smell, and sample a variety of foods from around the world. The staff at Zabar’s makes the experience especially welcoming. You hear many different languages spoken by visitors as they maneuver the aisles, comprised of five stores cobbled together. They do not seem to mind the occasional gentle bump to their shopping carts by neighboring ones on days when the establishment is unusually busy. They stroll past mountainous displays featuring Zabar’s legendary brand of
Zabar’s is half a city block long--nearly 20,000 square feet--and over 40,000 customers walk through Zabar’s doors every week. The food store, which is open 365 days a year, employs about 200 people, 35 of whom work exclusively in the kitchen.
Zabar’s was not always this abundant in size and scope. When Louis Zabar, the son of a merchant in the Ukraine, came to America in the early 1920s, he began his foray into the world of specialty foods by renting a modest food stall at a food market in Brooklyn. In 1927 he married Lillian, who coincidentally lived in the same Ukrainian village as Louis. The couple had three sons, Saul, Stanley, and Eli.
In 1934, Louis and Lillian rented a smoked fish department in the Daitch Market, which was on the same street as the present Zabar’s structure. Eventually they took over the entire Daitch Market and Zabar’s was born. The store expanded over the years when they acquired neighboring stores in the same block as they became available.
Saul Zabar had been attending the University of Kansas at the time of his father’s passing, and decided to leave school to help run the family business. Saul and his brother, Stanley, became equal partner co-owners. Stanley manages the Web store and is the Chief Financial Officer. Another key figure in continuing the success of the store was partner and general manager, Murray Klein. Brother Eli moved onto other aspects of the food business. While Saul and Stanley continued the family business on the West side of the City, Eli conquered new territory and opened food establishments on the East Side. His gastronomic empire includes E.A.T., Eli’s Vinegar Factory, Eli’s Manhattan, Eli Zabar’s Farm to Table (in Grand Central Station), and Eli’s Bread. The bread company sells wholesale to hotels, restaurants, caterers, and specialty food stores. Eli’s Bread has a big presence in Zabar’s food store, standing with the vast selection of artisan and Zabar’s own freshly-baked breads.
Saul continues his father’s philosophy and vision for Zabar’s. Louis sold only the highest quality smoked fish at a fair price. He wanted his customers to trust him and become “regulars.” He traveled to smokehouses and sampled smoked fish. Also, he roasted his own coffee and hand-selected every item in his store. The store was his life. Saul possesses many of Louis’s traditions and is also a man of great energy. Saul goes to work at Zabar’s every day and walks around to be aware of all aspects of his business. At 84 years old, he has no intention of retiring. Saul Zabar has gained the respect of a loyal workforce, most of whom have been employees for over three decades.
Saul Zabar learned well under his father’s tutelage, He is the buyer and taster for Zabar’s coffee...8,000 to 10,000 lbs. of coffee are roasted weekly. He is also proud of continuing his father’s tradition of being an integral part of the selection and sale of smoked fish...in particular, salmon and whitefish. Over 2.000 pounds of smoked fish. Deli cases are filled with everything from Smoked Nova Lox and Scottish-cured Salmon to Pastrami Salmon and Caviar. The cheese department. which employs twenty staff members, is considered to be one of the best in New York City. Careful consideration is given to the varieties and quality of the cheese while, at the same time, keeping prices down. Many of the cheese offerings are imported directly from France and other countries.
Zabar’s allows people who are not able to visit the store personally to purchase items through their catalog and on-line store. For over 40 years they have been shipping food to customers in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska.
Saul’s children and other family members have a part in the business, so the legacy of Zabar’s will continue for generations to come. His son, Aaron, is one of the front end managers and opens the store daily at 6 A.M., Stanley’s son, David, manages Zabar's promotions and outreach, cousin Sam Zabarko works as a front manager, and his cousin Larry Zilko heads the Mail Order, Web and Technical divisions. Sadly, an important and beloved person, who was part of the Zabar work family, passed away last year,” said Saul Zabar. “Andrea Watman, cousin, was employed at Zabar’s for more than 30 years as our creative director. She was the head of customer service and our graphics department, designed our mail-order catalogs, and headed up the catering department. Her mother, Pearl, also worked for Zabar’s as our first office manager.”
As a storyteller, Saul likes to share the many things he has seen through the years. In addition to his family background, Saul is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to relating the history of his section of New York City. He recalls his years as a youngster growing up in a section of New York which is so vastly different from today, and of how a young immigrant couple struggled and built an icon revered by people from around the globe. When you go to Zabar’s and hear over the in-store loudspeaker, “calling all hungry shoppers, come to the fish counter”...hurry over, because Saul Zabar wants to share something special with you.
“There’s a romance about what we do,” says Saul. “We have a modern appearance, but we really do things the way they were done 40, 50, 75, even 200 years ago.” Saul’s leadership is illuminated by his belief that Zabar’s is a repository for a tradition that may not exist much longer.
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