Fewer foods are as beloved in New York City as the bagel is. Add a (more than) generous helping of cream cheese, some smoked salmon, and maybe some capers and onions, and you have the quintessential New York City breakfast. There are plenty of places in New York City that serve bagels and lox, but perhaps none is as famous as Russ & Daughters. For my first time having a bagel with lox, I had to visit the original.
The Russ & Daughters story starts way back in 1907, when Joel Russ immigrated from the shtetl of Strzyzow, now part of modern day Poland. He started in the food industry on the Lower East Side by selling schmaltz herring out of a barrel to the Eastern European Jews in the neighborhood. After moving up the ranks to a pushcart and then a horse and wagon, Russ opened a brick and mortar store in 1914. The original Russ & Daughters was located on Orchard Street, and was moved to 179 East Houston Street in 1920, where it still stands today. The store specializes in smoked fish, caviar, and knishes.
So that’s Russ. But who are the “daughters” in Russ & Daughters? Since Russ had no sons, he had his three daughters (Hattie, Ida, and Anne) work in the shop once they were teenagers. In 1935, Russ made his daughters partners in the family business, and changed the name to Russ & Daughters. The business is the very first in the United States to have “and Daughters” be a part of its name!
In 1979, Anne’s son became the third-generation owner of the business. Today, Russ and Daughters is under its fourth generation of ownership, something which is unheard of when it comes to family businesses. A Russ & Daughters Café opened in 2014. Other locations include the Jewish Museum and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For the purposes of my quest, I hit up the original Russ & Daughters.
Because I am vehemently opposed to waiting in line for things, visiting Russ & Daughters was only going to happen if I made it there right after opening. I’ve heard of people waiting in line for a pretty long time, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. So, at 8:30 on a Saturday, I made my way inside.
Other than picking the right thing off the Russ & Daughters menu, the most important thing you can do during your visit is take a number. They’ll call your number, and you have just a few minutes to place your order. While you wait, you can check out the endless amount of smoked fish, cream cheese, salads, and other goodies for sale.
Having never ordered a bagel and lox sandwich before, I felt a little overwhelmed with options. The sandwiches are a bit pricey (you can spend upwards of $15 on one), so I didn’t want to order the wrong thing. I chose an everything bagel with plain cream cheese and Norwegian smoked salmon. Then I proceeded to kick myself for not ordering a pretzel bagel, but I digress.
There’s no place to sit inside of Russ & Daughters, but there are a few benches outside. The store is also close to the Sara Roosevelt Park and Tompkins Square Park, should you venture here on a warmer morning. Or, you know, be like me and scarf your sandwich down in 3 minutes. No judgment here.
I really enjoyed my trip to Russ & Daughters. To be fair, I had never had a bagel and lox sandwich before. It’s very possibly there are better (and cheaper) spots around New York City to find one. But if you’re looking for a good family-owned eatery, you really can’t beat Russ & Daughters.