The Record

Zabar brothers, Stanley ‘49 and Saul ‘46, continue legacy of Upper West Side gourmet emporium

Sadie Schwartz, Staff Writer

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Walking down Broadway, Zabar’s orange and white sign is hard to miss. The 83-year-old gourmet emporium serves as a landmark for Upper West Siders.

Upon entering the store, prepared food and fine cheeses line the displays behind glass panes; butchers meticulously cut their meat; wafts of freshly baked challah, bagels, and crumb cake linger in the air; and Saul Zabar ’46 and Stanley Zabar ’49 stand behind the counters, serving their customers.

The Zabar brothers’ father, Louis Zabar, originally created Zabar’s after he immigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1934, fleeing large Jewish persecutions in Russia called the pogroms. 

Louis entered the country through Canada and settled in Brooklyn. After marrying Lillian Teitelbaum, they opened a small deli in Brooklyn, but then turned to the Upper West side in search of work. Louis rented a small section of a market on 80th and Broadway, where he sold smoked fish and herring. He and his wife lived in a rental apartment across the street from the market.

“During this period we were always worried about protecting ourselves. During the 1930s and 40s, the area was very difficult to live in, and it was dangerous to walk on 80th and 81st streets,” Stanley said.

Saul attended Stuyvesant High School for ninth and 10th grade. One of Louis’ customers recommended Horace Mann School to Saul, so he transferred to the school in 1944.

“It was really one of the great periods of my life. Coming from Stuyvesant, which was such a desolate place, to HM was like going to heaven, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Saul said.

Every morning, Saul would take the 1 train to school with his best friend Ira Levin ‘46. He would walk past Headmaster Charles Tillinghast’s house and enter what felt, compared to Manhattan, like the countryside, Saul said.

During Saul’s time at the school, every student was required to be on a sports team each trimester, so he played on the football and soccer teams. If a student skipped class or sports practice, they would be forced to wash out their own mouth with a bar of soap, he said.

“One of my fondest memories was walking over to the highway with my friends during my free periods and hitchhiking into New York City just for the fun of it,” Saul said.

Saul graduated from the school in the top third of his class and attended the University of Kansas, where he was one of the first members of its Jewish fraternity.

His younger brother Stanley also attended the school. Stanley goes to the alumni reunion hosted by the school every five years and donates to the alumni fund every year, he said.

Saul used to get together at Michael Loeb’s ‘46 house with six of his friends from high school a few times a year, but now only four of those friends remain living.

Several years ago, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly honored the Zabar brothers as one of their honored graduates, so they came up to visit the school.

Stanley thoroughly enjoyed his time at the school and continued on   to The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania’s business school.

“I think Horace Mann gave me an education that made me want to learn more and discover new things. I learned how to be interesting and how to also be successful,” Stanley said.

Stanley graduated college and became a corporate and real estate lawyer. After working in law for 25 years, he worked for the family business and continues to work at Zabar’s to this day.

After his father passed away in 1950, Saul took over the family business and became responsible for all four markets that his father had opened. He had stores on 80th, 92nd, 96th, and 110th street.

“Everyday, I had to shuffle between all four stores. I was not very knowledgeable and had to learn on the job. It was like diving into water and learning how to swim,” Saul said. “There was a fire in the 110th and 96th street store, and they both closed down, so we eventually wound up with one store on 80th. About 20 years ago, we bought five buildings, connected them, and made Zabar’s one large operation,” he said.

Jaden Katz (11) loves Zabar’s because they sell fun, quirky items, such as sushi-makers. They have good cheese bagels, pasta, and potatoes, she said.

“It’s really crowded on holidays, which represents a communal aspect for Jews. The diversity of food is great, since there is different food from different cultures,” Ari Salsberg (9) said. “It’s iconic because I see Zabar’s and think, ‘That’s where they have all the best food.’”

Saul tastes everything, and if the salmon caviar is not up to par, he does not sell it to his customers. He is a stickler for quality food, Zabar’s customer Betty Rauch said.

“The Zabar brothers are awesome and do a lot for their employees, not just monetarily. I recognize people from here on the street, and I’ve made a lot of friends working here. The majority of the employees have worked here for a very long time,” Zabar’s Store Manager Billy Yulfo said as he greeted a shopper with a high-five.

Yulfo has worked at Zabar’s for 14 years. It is a very close-knit family, so he even knows when all of his regular customers’ birthdays are, he said.

“Everyone there is kind. They don’t hire new workers very often, so you know everyone,” Katz said. “It’s a very open, accepting community. The family is very nice, loving, warm, and they love to eat. They appreciate good latkes and coleslaw.”

Attached to Zabar’s central market is a cafe where people gather daily to schmooze, Saul said. He calls this the “breakfast club.”

“It’s a place where people just feel comfortable because there are old people like me. Everybody has a memoir and we learn each other’s memoirs,” Zabar’s customer Phyllis Winter said. “We are everything here. We come here with our whole group of friends every day, and it’s like a club here.”

Over the years, Zabar’s has been named “New York’s finest” and “the best of the best” in the Zagat New York City Marketplace Survey.

“We serve a purpose. People really tell me how important my store is to them,” Saul said. “It’s special in the sense that it represents history and an aspect of ethnic Jewish food that doesn’t exist as much anymore.”

From top to bottom: Saul Zabar ’46 during an interview in 2005, and Stanley Zabar ’49 in the 1949 Mannikin.

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Zabar brothers, Stanley ‘49 and Saul ‘46, continue legacy of Upper West Side gourmet emporium