David Jacques

MEET THE STAFF  

Alina Sheffi

 

How long have you worked at Russ & Daughters?

16 years. I started in June or July of 1991.

 

What is an early memory of Russ & Daughters?

I can tell you about my very first experience of Russ & Daughters. I’ll never forget it. When I walked into the store for the first time, the unique aroma in this place immediately transported me back in time  to when I was four or five years old child in Romania. It immediately brought back memories of walking into the store that my father worked in that was somewhat similar to Russ & Daughters. As the child of Holocaust survivors, I looked around and the Eastern European foods, smells, and customers at Russ & Daughters made me feel at home.

 

After I started working at the shop, my father moved from New York to Israel. Every time I would go to visit him in Israel, there was just no way that he would let me show up without bringing him a schmaltz herring from Russ & Daughters.

 

So how did you get the job?

My friend, Barry Levinson, was working at Russ & Daughters and he kept telling me about this wonderful place where he worked. I was undergoing chemotherapy at the time. I felt terrible, was depressed and didn’t have a job. When I walked into the store, I met Anne Russ, one of the original daughters. She was about to move to Florida, but she was still helping out in the business. We talked about cancer and she gave me a lot of encouragement. Looking at and smelling everything in the store made me so hungry, which is unusual when you’re doing chemo. I just had to eat something! What was I craving? A pickled tomato. Shortly after that, I started working there.

 

What are some memories you have of Anne Russ Federman?

For many years, even after she moved to Florida, she would still come back and work at the store during the Jewish holidays. We would pull out this old register just for her. That register was so old that Anne was the only one who knew how to use it. We would set up the register with a little chair in the hallway—that was the only space to put it—and Anne would sit there, ring up all of the holiday orders and hold court. All of the customers would come to give her a kiss and schmooze for a little.

 

Share with us a memorable experience at Russ & Daughters

One year during the Jewish holidays, the store was packed, packed, packed as usual. Amidst all of the noise and activity, I overhead one customer talking to another one about a Yiddish song from his childhood. He couldn’t remember the name, but he remembered that it was about a tsigele (figuratively, a young child, literally, a baby goat)  and what he was going to be when he grew up. “I know that song!” I said. “Can you sing it?” he asked. Then other people started pushing me to sing, including Mark Russ. My boss wanted me to sing, so I had to sing. All of a sudden the store got totally quiet and there were one hundred pairs of eyes on me. I sang and then the place erupted in the biggest applause ever. My face turned as red as a tomato.

 

Why do you think that Russ & Daughters has managed to stay around for nearly 100 years and maintain the reputation that we have?

It’s the the quality of our food, the way we display it and the way we  serve it. Everything has to look great and be perfect at every moment. After all, food is theater.

 

Also, people come here not to just buy something and walk out. They come for an experience. Even if someone just wants a sandwich, there’s a conversation that happens and we get to share a moment with that person. Everyone has something to tell you.  

 

There’s a sandwich that’s going to be named in your honor. What’s in The Sheffi?

It’s a bialy with plain cream cheese, a slice of belly lox, two slices of Gaspé, tomato and pickled onions. It’s delicious.

 

What else should the world know about Alina Sheffi?

That I’m the most wonderful person and the best mother ever; that I woke up one morning and decided not to spend any more energy on negativity. I’m all about peace and harmony.



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