"Bits and Morsels" by Jordana Z, is an ongoing collection of information from the world of the foodies and foodblogs:
Gary Greengrass, aka 'The Sturgeon King,' is the owner of the Upper West Side smoked fish haven, Barney Greengrass. He is carrying on the family business which originated in Harlem in 1908 before moving to its present Upper West Side location. We sat down with him over a chocolate babka muffin and a cup of coffee to find out a little more about what makes him the 'king.'
What time do you get in everyday?
My schedule varies. This morning I was in at 6:30 am because I had a big catering order to fill. If I'm not physically in the store, I might be home working, where I am not disturbed, making phone calls and working on the computer.
What time do you leave everyday?
We close the store at six but I can be here as late as can be.
What is your favorite thing to have in the store?
A whitefish and nova sandwich with scallion cream cheese on a toasted bialy. It’s a sandwich to die for ... it’s delicious. When I was a kid in school I used to take two sandwiches for lunch. One for me and one for the other kids because they all wanted my sandwich for lunch.
What is the first thing you do when you come to the store in the morning?
I take care of my customers first. If there is an order that has to go out, that’s the first thing I take care of. It’s not a cliché ... the customer really comes first.
How long has the store been in business?
We have been in business since 1908, so it's been 99 years. We started up in Harlem on 113th street and we moved to this location in 1929.
What made your grandfather pick this location on the Upper West Side?
When we were up in Harlem, it was primarily a Jewish neighborhood. I guess as that area might have deteriorated over time people started migrating down to the Upper West Side.
When did you open up in California?
We opened in Beverly Hills inside of Barneys in 1996.
What’s your busiest day?
Sunday and Saturday brunch.
Inside Barney Greengrass.
|What's your clientele like?
We get locals as well as people who come from all over the world.
Who is your ideal customer?
I have many of them. People who are very easy going ... they have confidence in you that you will take care of them and they come back to you over and over because of that. We really don’t get many complaints. We are not here for 100 years because we don’t know what we are doing. We are not going to be everything to everybody. We focus on what we know best which is smoked fish.
My grandfather was named Barney. And there was a state senator named James Frawley who used to come into the store on a regular basis ... and eventually coined the phrase “ The Sturgeon King.” The name took.
What’s the most popular fish that you sell?
The most popular fish is the salmon, Nova Scotia. Sable has become more popular over the years. It costs a lot of money now. In my grandfather’s day they used to call it the poor man’s sturgeon because it was a cheap fish. Sable is black cod and it is becoming scarce and very expensive. Right now its $42.00 a pound.
Very few restaurants in New York have been in business for over 90 years. What’s the secret?
The secret is very simple. You have to have the best product you can offer and don’t cut corners. When it comes to the fish, people don’t realize that they grade fish like meat. I could buy a product that was less expensive, but I won’t do it.
We make cheese blintzes from scratch. We use a farmer's cheese, which is more expensive than a pot cheese. The other secret is hard work. There are no free lunches. I am here, my dad was here, and my grandfather was here. We are not absentee owners. We take everything we do with pride and we want it to be a certain way.
Do you ever go to Rao’s?
I was there once. It’s Barney Greengrass with Italian food, except you can get into my place a lot easier.
Do you think farmed caviar is as good as wild?
Nothing is as good as wild, but it’s all relative. When you talk about an item like caviar a lot of people buy it more for the status than for the taste. If they want something good they should have a piece of rye bread with a little bit of butter on it. Rye bread with seeds!
Till we eat again,