No Bones About It: Esposito Meat Market Endures
BY DENNIS LYNCH | Hell’s Kitchen has changed a lot over the last 100 years, but there’s one institution on W. 38th St. that’s changed very little, and aged very well. Esposito Meat Market, a traditional Italian butcher shop run by the family from which it takes its name, is still sending locals home with cuts of prime meats and a smile on their faces.
Third-generation owner Robert Esposito said it’s that personal service and quality products that have kept the store in business at 500 Ninth Ave. (at the corner of W. 38th St.) for 85 years.
“It’s the atmosphere of an old-time butcher shop. We do one thing: the meats, no supermarket stuff. When going to an old-time shop you get better quality and better service,” Esposito said.
You don’t have to take his word for it — ask regular Curtis Jewell, who’s been a customer for two decades.
“Its not like a supermarket where you’re just a number; they know you, they know your name, they know what you like, how to cut it for you. They do the right thing for you,” Jewell said.
Jewell is right — the butchers at Esposito have really gotten to know their customers. Many of them have been there for 10 to 15 years, and the longest-serving employee has been there for 32 years — nearly as long as Robert himself has worked there full-time.
“We try to treat everyone like family, our costumers and our employees,” Esposito said.
They were on a first-name basis with almost everyone who walked in during Chelsea Now’s visit. Between shooting the breeze with Robert and others while he waited for his order, Jewell planned a workout session with one of the butchers before he left with his deli meats, ground beef, and sausages.
When Jewell first started coming to Esposito, Robert’s father Teddy was running the show behind the counter. He’s just a young man compared to some of the shop’s oldest customers — Robert said there’s an elderly woman named Olga who still comes down every month or so to stock up on meats. She’s been coming for 60 years.
The family has passed on the deed to the corner shop from generation to generation since Robert’s grandfather Giovanni first opened there just before the Great Depression hit, joining the dozens of butcher shops and meat markets that lined Ninth Ave. and made up Paddy’s Market. Giovanni was already a successful butcher, running his shop on Mulberry St. and on W. 40th St. before settling at the corner of W. 38th St. The construction of the Lincoln Tunnel between Ninth and 10th Aves. killed Paddy’s Market, but Esposito endured.
It was never broken, so they never had to fix anything, so the practices have largely stayed the same at Esposito even as the neighborhood and the customer base has constantly changed.
Giovanni used to sell a lot more “peasant’s food,” — neckbones and tripe, for example, Robert said. Those cheaper cuts undoubtedly made their way into stews and soups eagerly consumed by hungry laborers who helped build this city. Who knows? Maybe there was an Esposito sausage packed in the lunchbox of one of those workers captured in the iconic “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photo from 1932 (Rockefeller Center, after all, is only a dozen or so blocks away from the shop).
Now customers ask for more prime cuts, such as shell steaks and ribeye steaks. They sell more chicken too. Regardless of demand, Esposito cuts everything in-house from sides and quarters of meat, and stocks just about everything that comes off a cow, lamb, or chicken, so you can ask for any custom cut or peasant food you want.
Esposito’s in-house-made sausages are still the best-selling product, though. Esposito still uses his traditional family recipe for many of them, but he’s gotten creative too, again to adapt to changing demands.
“Back then we’d sell sweet, hot, cheese, and parsley [sausages]; now we sell, like, 20 different varieties,” Esposito said. “Back then it was just pork sausage, now we have a line of chicken sausage — people wanted chicken sausage so we made chicken sausage.”
Esposito sources their all-natural, non-steroid meats from around the country — their pork and chicken comes from Pennsylvania, lamb and veal from Colorado, and beef from Nebraska. Their veal and lamb are grass-fed and their beef is certified Angus — but for now they don’t have much in the way of certified organic meats. That’s not because they don’t want to, but because sourcing a side of organic beef or a quarter of lamb is difficult these days, Esposito said.
“All that organic stuff comes prepackaged from the farm. When you go to the supermarket and you see [organic] ground beef in the Cryovac package, that comes from wherever that farm is,” he said. “It’s a local farm, not big, and you can’t get it wholesale. As more and more people ask for it maybe it will come to the day when a butcher shop can offer whole sides of it.”
Until then, Esposito Meat Market will just have to survive on customer service and quality, which has certainly served them well so far.
Visit espositomeatmarket.com for more information.