On the eve of Russ & Daughters expanding their appetizing empire to include a sit down restaurant, co-owner Josh Russ Tupper talked about his beautiful, utterly original, undeniably physically taxing, and fun career path on Employee of the Month. Despite having been born on Ananda (pro vegan & vegetarian) Ashram, Tupper quickly earned a reputation as one of the greatest lox slicers, not to be confused with shmearers. After hearing rumors of his steady left hand, I put Tupper to the test, which you can hear in the recording of our interview, which was taped live at Joe’s Pub.
Even on a curved plate, with a jack knife, Tupper sliced the lox so thin that you really can read The New York Times through it. He also partook in an empirically sound blind taste that the celebrated Upper West Side’s Barney’s Greengrass appetizing deli doesn’t hold a candle to Russ & Daughters, although Zabar’s is holding on to dear life when it comes to the taste and freshness of lox. (Please note that in this highly objective, scientifically run test, Tupper was forced to sample different types of salmon.) That said, this taste test, like any other delivered on a late night comedy talk show, should be taken seriously.
Insatiably creative, hard working, and hungry to connect with his family’s roots, Tupper quit his career in chemical engineering in Oregon and joined the family business on the Lower East Side of New York, when his uncle, who had been successfully steering the store for decades, prepared for retirement. Josh teamed up with his cousin Niki Russ Federman and the duo have managed to not only sustain the deli’s rich history, but add their own flavor. Their zest for entrepreneurship, genuine love of impeccable customer service, and vision proves that businesses, even ones with fishy beginnings, can adapt and grow. Harvard Business School grads to anyone operating a business, can look to Russ & Daughters as an example when it comes to growth, sustainability, worker and customer satisfaction.
Russ & Daughters employs a remarkably diverse staff and know how to hire people who know how to do their jobs better than you could imagine. Take Jen Snow, their adept social media maven, amongst other hats. She grew their social media and outreach on the web, including their clever @Lox Populi blog and Twitter accounts. A staple in the community, Josh and Niki regularly partake in local food events.
Business is hard, even when you inherit a well respected and financially viable one. The fourth generation had the fortune of foodie culture skyrocketing during their tenure. They didn’t have to do (as much) outside of their main mission to garner publicity as everyday foodies to celebrities, from Martha Stewart, Lena Dunham, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to Louis CK, clamor to be associated with the brand and reference it in films and television shows. While the perks of being “rockstars” in your field offer validation, they aren’t reflective of the daily grind which revolves around buying, selling, preparing, shmoozing with customers, overseeing a staff, and serving millions of customers.
In our conversation, Tupper shared his insights into what it’s like to take on such a personally meaningful work and add his own mark to its legacy. The proof is in the pudding, or babka. Josh and Niki, with their fine staff, have moved this iconic, delectable New York, Jewish institution to new heights, well blocks. You can check out their store on Houston Street or restaurant down a couple blocks on Hester or oder. It was a treat for Josh to join us, especially at such a busy time in his career, and sheer fun.
The next live taping of Employee of the Month is September 18th at Joe’s Pub. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or www.employeeofthemonthshow.com. Follow me on Twitter @catielazarus for updates.