To Butterfield Market we go

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Snacking and scrolling outside the newly expanded Butterfield Market on 78th Street and Lexington Avenue. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024. A nice, early Spring day, yesterday in New York. Some Sun, some rain – enough to turn the sidewalks from tan to brown (wet), but that was gone before noon.

It was the day after the holiday weekend when the whole town goes from casual quiet to carousel madness.

It so happened that JH and I had an appointment to visit Butterfield Market on 78th Street and Lexington Avenue. It’s not a story for the social pages but it’s a story where the subjects and the readers of the social pages are likely to go.

A few days ago, I get this kind invitation from one Joelle explaining that after nearly 110 years in business, the original Butterfield Market located at 1114 Lexington will be expanding to the corner of 78th Street and the opening will be on Monday after Easter Weekend, and would we like to come and see it.

The new 78th Street corner entrance of Butterfield Market.

That all sounds normal if you’re thinking about small business stories but the Butterfield Market isn’t just any grocery store. It’s a grocery store in the old-fashioned sense. But its clientele was and still is located on the Upper East Side, with lots of Park and Fifth Avenue families in residence.

I’ve been aware of it since I came to New York out of college and lived on East 77th and had to get the subway on 77th and Lex. It’s an old retail block probably dating back to the 19th century: retail, variety, food, drug store. And Butterfield Market.

I was impressed then only because of the name, which always reminded me of John O’Hara and his novel Butterfield 8. You might remember the movie with Elizabeth Taylor, if you haven’t read the book.

I say “yes” too much when I shouldn’t and you say “no” too much when you shouldn’t.”

Well Butterfield Market had a different air about it than the other establishments on the block. Not fancy but classic. It was a market and the clientele. The few times I’d been inside over the years it seemed like a well organized, well-tended, well-stocked and well-managed shop.

I could imagine those neighbors on avenues Park and Fifth found it excellent and agreeable. Quality in every way and neighborly in service. The market once flew in 100 boxes of strawberries (for a Christmas party thrown by Bette Davis).

I wondered if John O’Hara had ever been to Butterfield’s. Really, that’s the way my head works.

So, JH and I met there about 1 pm. That block on Lex between 77th and 78th is also going through a kind of re-birth.

Butterfield proprietors and brother/sister Joelle and Evan Obsatz in front of the newly renovated Butterfield Market.

Joelle and Evan told us they have lifelong customers who remember them when they were children. And many of their employees are family members, including husbands, wives, and siblings.

The new Butterfield to these eyes has more glass front so you can see inside which is spacious and light, and outside the entrance it has kept its signature benches placed on the sidewalk tucked under the windows. Which reminded me that the Butterfield’s on 85th and Madison is also owned by the family.

Their signature benches which line the storefront.

Once inside you forget about the history and the makeover because it’s one of those markets that makes you want to buy it and eat it right there. Butterfield specializes in prepared foods, coffee, produce, baked goods, cheeses, gift baskets and specialty foods. They draw all kinds of clientele. Joelle told me that a dog left in a car once drove into the store through a window — this was in the early ’80s. (The driver left the motor running.)

Greeted by cupcakes on opening day.
And greeted by Butterfield’s Market Manager, Jason Matthews.
They closed their doors on March 22nd, renovated the original shop, and connected it with a new corner space all in a week!

Despite the mouth-watering part, we had the opportunity to meet the family members all from grandfather Teddy Applebaum who went to work there as the manager in 1955. In 1974 when the original owner decided to retire, he sold the business to Teddy and his son-in-law Alan who began expanding the business by adding in specialty goods and prepared foods.

The third generation, comprising brother/sister Evan and Joelle Obsatz, is now running the family business.

We spent the better part of an hour talking to the family about their business, and JH gathering the sights of a super-fabulous market run by some really nice neighbors who wish only to do their best for all their customers. Really.

The new market offers an expanded customer selection including a sushi station, pictured above, an espresso bar, pressed sandwiches, more specialty baked goods and larger appetizing, produce and prepared foods departments.
A new daily rotating Chef’s Table featuring a hot meal every weekday for lunch.
A look around the market.
A Butterfield’s regular, Will Kopelman popped into the store to share a word of congratulations.

Named for its original area telephone exchange, Butterfield began as a humble home delivery service to families like the Rockefellers and Astors. Now they have more than 250 employees, some of whom have been with them for over 25 years.
Original wooden beams and window frames are incorporated into the store’s design.
The prepared foods departments. Yum.

All salad containers and sandwich wraps are made from corn based plastics and are compostable.

Restocking their shelves, counters, and display cases …

Here’s the view across the street (looking east) from Butterfield. In case you have any room left in your stomach, you’ve got Angelina for croissants, Venchi for gelato, and Dos Toros for Mexican-ish fast-casual. The neighborhood has definitely changed; and the neighbors are happy.

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