Russ and Daughters Press
Russ And Daughters A Family Affair On The Lower East Side
By Paul Messina
The Lower East Side is the place where it all began for millions of immigrant families. One family that came and never left is the Russ family, owners of Russ and Daughters for 88 years. “I was actually born a block away from here on Ludlow Street,” says Mark Russ Federman, the owner of Russ and Daughters. “The Russ family is the Lower East Side, and I'm part of that. And it doesn't feel a little special - it feels very special just to be genetically attached to the neighborhood, the store and the family business. It doesn't happen that often.”
Federman is the third generation of his family to run the famed smoked fish shop on Houston Street. But it all started with Joel Russ about 100 years ago. “It’s a typical immigrant story,” says Niki Federman. “My great-grandfather came here and really had no other options but to sell his wares on a pushcart, things like herring, Polish mushrooms, and foods that at that point were staples to the Eastern-European immigrants.”
Niki is the fourth generation working in the family business, and that makes her proud. “We know our customers, we know their kids, we tell them jokes, and there's a really special atmosphere here that I just feel obligated to continue,” she says. Her cousin Josh Tupper had similar feelings. “Being here every day and having people come in and say, ‘I knew your great-grandfather and I knew your grandparents,’ it's amazing to me. There's nothing like it,” says Josh.
Joel Russ first opened Russ' Cut-Rate Appetizers on Orchard Street in 1914. He moved to the current location in the early 1920's. Since he had no sons, his three daughters became his partners, and the name was changed to Russ and Daughters. “The concept in the Russ family was not that anybody would continue on in the business. This business was strictly a matter of survival from the very beginning,” says Mark Russ Federman. His parents worked hard so that Federman could become a lawyer, but he eventually returned to the family business. His nephew and his daughter also tried other careers. “I did the two things that I studied in school and that I thought I was going to do - diplomacy and art - and I also ended up back in the store,” says Niki. “I think you just start thinking about what's really important.”
“This is my family,” says Josh. “This is a legacy that I want to carry on and I want my kids to carry on.” It's not just about the fish - it's about the family. And as part of moving the business forward, they’ve added a website at www.russanddaughters.com. You can't really get that "old world" feeling from a computer screen, but you can try.