Saul Zabar is not a romantic.
“There’s nothing poetic about this business,” he told The New York Times in 2008.
Try telling that to the crowds swarming his Upper West Side store each Friday: grandmas shoving yuppies, yuppies shoving grandmas, everyone salivating over the lox.
Zabar’s turns 80 this year, and Saul Zabar, its 86-year-old co-owner and lifelong employee, is the store’s face. He’s come a long way since his first job as a lookout: His father flaunted the so-called blue laws that forced stores to close during church hours on Sundays, and so Saul Zabar was tasked with letting his dad know if the cops were coming.
Zabar attributes the store’s iconic status to its longevity. “If you stick around long enough, and you stay in business, and try to do what we’re supposed to be doing, I think you get a reputation,” he told CUNY TV in 2012.
Just don’t mention brother Eli Zabar, who split with the family and headed to the East Side, where he heads up his own gourmet empire. (The brothers insist, in press accounts, that there’s no more bad blood. “He’s the most special man,” Eli Zabar said of Saul Zabar in the 2008 Times story.)
Meanwhile, there’s no one nearly as attuned as Saul Zabar to the rhythms of the Jewish food cycle.
“Rosh Hashanah is a brisket holiday,” he told the Forward’s Abigail Pogrebin, when she interviewed him recently. “Then, when we come to Yom Kippur, then we are in a fish world.”
Pogrebin asked if Zabar fasted on Yom Kippur. “I eat light,” he said, laughing.