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The secret to a New York culinary institution's longevity

Beyond a small storefront along Houston Street on weekend mornings, patrons pack the inside of one of New York's culinary institutions, willing to wait for the lauded lox, herring, homemade salads and spreads that have kept customers coming back for 100 years.

With some of the fiercest competition in the country, rising costs and ever-changing dining trends, it's difficult for restaurants to survive in New York City. But Russ & Daughters, a family-owned "appetizing shop" on New York's Lower East Side, has endured through all of that plus wars, recessions and the Great Depression—that's how long they've been around!

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Now celebrating their 100th anniversary, Russ & Daughters was started in 1914 by Joel Russ, a young Jewish immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian village of Stryzow (now a town in southern Poland). The "appetizing shop," a tradition particularly unique to New York, serves items such as smoked fishes, homemade salads and cream cheeses, as well as breads and bagels. "Appetizing" has ties to Jewish dietary laws, which dictate that meat and dairy products cannot be sold or consumed together.

"I think they're definitely a cultural institution and an institution of this neighborhood," said Carlina Rivera of Good Old Lower East Side, a neighborhood housing and preservation association.

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So, what's the secret to their longevity?

"Our theory is serve the best possible food that you can…it should test the best, it should be the best looking…it should just be fantastic," said Josh Russ Tupper, a fourth-generation co-owner of Russ & Daughters. "We are who we are, and we've always been during the tough times and the boom times. We sort of stick to what we know and who we are. And I hope that for the next 100-200 years that we maintain that."

Russ and Daughters "appetizing shop" on E. Houston Street.
CNBC
Russ and Daughters "appetizing shop" on E. Houston Street.

American chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain put it this way: "Russ & Daughters occupies that rare and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last—but also the best."

This year, Russ & Daughters expanded to include a café just down the block from its appetizing store location in order to translate the experience of its store into a sit-down environment.

By Bo McMillan, Special to CNBC.com

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