Historic Small Businesses on the Upper East Side
Many businesses on the Upper East Side are family-owned, and have been passed down for generations. These small mom and pop shops lend individual character, neighborly warmth, and historical continuity to our community. The following tour highlights an array of small businesses that have served our neighborhood for decades. These and other businesses may be open for online commerce or curbside pickup during the Covid Crisis. If you are able, we encourage all Friends of the Upper East Side to celebrate and support local businesses during this trying time. And let us know what shops are special to you and how they are serving the community in this unprecedented time, and we will add them to the list.
Our tour begins at Donohue’s Steak House a third-generation family owned chop-house, stationed at 845 Lexington Avenue, between 64th and 65th streets. This seventy-year-old institution has been open daily for lunch and dinner since 1950, and was a recipient of FRIENDS Good Neighbor Award in 2015. Its staff and customers are such good neighbors that owner Maureen Donohue-Peters estimates she knows 99 percent of her customers by their first name. Indeed, some are such devout regulars, they take two meals a day at Donohue’s (The antiques dealer Robert H. Ellsworth came for lunch and dinner, 4 nights a week, for as many decades; Andrew Rosenthal, known as “the Mayor of Donohue’s” arrived nightly at 6:45 for more than 20 years). Donohue’s is closed during the Covid Crisis, but looks forward to welcoming diners when it is safe to do so.
Neil’s Coffee Shop, sits at 70th and Lex, right across from the FRIENDS office and it is the 2020 Good Neighbor Awardee. This stalwart neighborhood diner was founded in 1940, and has the original neon sign to prove it. You’ll also find Roosevelt-era interiors complete with the original decorations. Cristo Kaloudis purchased the diner from Neil himself in 1980, and still runs the place. Neil’s offers a massive and eclectic menu (note the 29 preparations of eggs!) They are open for take out and delivery during the pandemic.
Still on Lexington Avenue, but no longer in the realm of food, you’ll find Paul Mole’s, the city’s oldest barber shop, at number 1034, on the corner of 74th Street. Paul Mole’s, in business since 1913, has been the barber of choice for everyone from Joe DiMaggio to John Lennon, and normally welcomes both appointments and walk-ins. Mole’s has 12 barbers for all your coiffing needs, and if you can’t make it into the shop, they also offer at-home appointments.
Butterfield Market was established in 1915 and has since grown to include catering and cafés. In 1963, Teddy Applebaum, the store’s longtime manager, bought Butterfield Market, and has since passed the store down to his son-in-law and grandchildren. Butterfield sources produce from local farms, and donates more than 3,000 pounds of food each year to non-profit organizations serving New Yorkers in need. During the Covid Crisis, Butterfield Market is running a “Feed our Heroes” initiative, working with hospitals and medical centers to feed medical workers on the front lines. You can donate to the initiative, and order items for delivery through Butterfield’s website, or by calling BUtterfield 8-7800 (212-288-7800).
Swing East along 78th Street until you get to 308, between First and Second Avenue, and you’ll find Orwasher’s Bakery, which received our Good Neighbor Award in 2016, and bills itself as “New York’s Original Artisan Bakery.” When Abraham Orwasher, a Hungarian immigrant, founded Orwasher’s Bakery in this storefront in 1916, the area was home to Yorkville’s Hungarian Community. He began turning out loaves in a coal-fired brick oven in the basement; the Orwasher family continued that tradition for nearly 100 years, turning out, over the course of its history, upwards of 10 Million loaves. The Orwasher’s sold the bakery to current owner Keith Cohen in 2008, and Cohen has both enlarged the business – adding a second location on the West Side – and kept the Orwasher’s tradition alive, using vintage recipes for Rye, Challah and Sourdough. During the pandemic, you can order online for curbside pickup at both the East and West Side locations.
Speaking of historic Yorkville, both Heidelberg Restaurant and Schaller and Weber Butchers have been serving up Teutonic fare on Second Avenue since the mid-1930s. Both institutions are family owned, and both stand as beloved links to Yorkville’s German Heritage, and to 86th Street’s erstwhile status as “German Broadway.”
Heidelberg was established in 1936, and has been owned by the Matischak family since 1964. Owner Eva Matischak also owns a farm in Upstate New York, where the restaurant’s meat is sourced. These days their generous dishes are available for delivery.
Ferdinand Schaller and Tony Weber opened their butcher shop just a couple of doors down from Heidelberg in 1937. Ferdinand’s grandson Jeremy still owns the store, and has expanded the enterprise to include outposts at Essex Market downtown, and Dekalb Market in Brooklyn.
Schaller and Weber, which won our Good Neighbor Award in 2012, is widely considered, amongst chefs and German émigrés alike, to have the best German-style charcuterie in America. You can fulfill all your knackwurst needs by ordering online; delivery is available throughout NYC.
Wankel’s Hardware, recipient of 2019’s Good Neighbor Award, is another beloved vestige of German Yorkville. Bernhart and Elizabeth Wankel opened Wankel’s at 1573 3rd Avenue, between 78th and 79th Streets, in 1896, and served the neighborhood’s brewery and construction trades. Today, per the slogan you see on Wankel’s signage “In the Same Family Since 1896,” the store is owned and run by Katherine and Sean Wankel, and staffed by individuals who are rebuilding their lives in the neighborhood: Wankel’s proudly employs refugees, those formally incarcerated, or recently homeless. Call or email to place orders for curbside pickup.
Make your way from Yorkville to Carnegie Hill, and you’ll find The Corner Bookstore at 1313 Madison Avenue, on corner of 93rd Street. The Corner Bookstore opened in 1978, and immediately became a neighborhood hub, offering new and out-of-print titles for adults and children. The Corner Bookstore is so much a community space, it hosts an annual open house neighborhood Christmas Eve Party! Call or email for book recommendations during the crisis, and to arrange curbside pickup, free local delivery, or shipping!
About a half a mile down Madison, between 82nd and 83rd Streets, you’ll find Lobel’s Prime Meats, The Upper East Side’s destination for elite meat since 1954. While they’ve spent more than 65 years on the Upper East Side, offering only the best USDA Prime Meats, the Lobel’s have been in the butchery business since 1840, when patriarch Nathan Lobel began raising beef cattle in Austria in 1840. Today, 6 generations of Lobel’s have worked at the store. You can order haute haunches online!
Finally, walk across 83rd Street to pickup a treat from Lexington Candy Shop, the oldest family owned Luncheonette in New York. Three generations of the Philis family have presided over the shop since Sotoris Philis opened for business in 1925, making sweets in the basement. The Philis’s added a full kitchen in 1948, and turned the Candy Shop into a destination for burgers, milkshakes, pancakes and eggs. To this day, the soda is homemade, and the juice is squeezed to order. The window is also home to New York’s largest collection of Coca-Cola bottles. Swing by for takeout, call for pickup and delivery. Did you know their most-ordered item during the pandemic has been French fries?
As an organization committed to preserving the architectural legacy, livability and sense of place of the Upper East Side, FRIENDS knows that so much of that neighborhood character comes from the hard work and persistence of local business owners like these. We are proud to support our Good Neighbors!