A Family Affair: Lobel’s of New York Retains its Old-World Charm

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Once upon a time, you’d head to a cheese monger for cheese, a fruit market for sundries and a butcher for your meat. The introduction of the supermarket in the 1920s changed all that and, for generations, Americans of every variety adhered to the one-stop-shopping rule. Today, shoppers are in a retro frame of mind. Everyone wants to buy locally sourced goods, from small retailers, whether it be clothing, housewares or food. One of the biggest trends is frequenting the specialty butcher shop like grandpa Vito did long ago. While new butcher shops are popping up around the country, purveyors such as Madison Avenue’s Lobel’s have been going strong for five generations—and counting.

Lobel’s is a New York institution. Chances are, if you’ve lived in New York City at any time in the past 50 years and you consider yourself a carnivore, you’ve heard of Lobel’s. For everyone else here’s a little back story: Family patriarch Nathan Lobel was an Austrian cattle rancher in the 1840s and he and his son opened a butcher shop. His grandson, Morris, left home at 17 and continued the family business in New York City. His sons—Leon, Nathan, and Stanley—joined the family business, making it one of the most prosperous local shops on the Upper East Side. Stanley and Leon sons, David, Evan, and Mark, are the fifth generation to own Lobel’s. It’s one of the few family business still left in the tony Manhattan enclave.

The shop, albeit larger than it was at its beginnings, still retains much of its old-world flavor. A wood and glass case houses prime cuts of beef, lamb, pork and poultry while butcher knives and cleavers hang suspended on a back wall. Workers slice and dice thick hunks of meat in a rapid yet elegant fashion as David, Evan and Mark supervise the operation. Lobel’s does a brisk business locally, having expanded from USDA Prime beef to include American Wagyu, Kurobuta pork, and All-Natural lamb and poultry (as well as specialty items such as salmon and lobster). But its online business is thriving with many out-of-towners opting for special items (sans Wagyu) to be delivered via Fed Ex. Here’s some advice: Send that special someone a Sweetheart Steak from Lobel’s this Valentine’s day. This 20-ounce dry-aged boneless rib eye or strip will make any carnivore a happy camper.