Russ & Daughters, the famous Lower East Side appetizing counter and restaurant, is not just a New York City institution; it’s also a committed partner of Hot Bread Kitchen. Ahead of the Jewish High Holy Days, one of the busiest and most thrilling times of year for the 107-year-old family business, Hot Bread Kitchen spoke with Avi Bromberg, Russ & Daughters’ Director of Human Resources, who has overseen the company’s growth in hiring Hot Bread Kitchen graduates over the past several years. Bromberg has also managed the company’s transition and adaptation through the pandemic, during which time Russ & Daughters was forced to reduce staff across its three locations. For a business that prides itself on its roster of longtime employees and treating their team well, Russ & Daughters has been looking forward to re-upping their staff to pre-pandemic levels while keeping everyone safe. Below, Bromberg shares how Russ & Daughters approaches building a team and keeping a NYC institution alive and thriving, even in tough times.
“Our relationship with Hot Bread Kitchen started when I started at Russ & Daughters, in 2018. Niki [Russ Federman, co-owner of Russ & Daughters] put me in touch with Hot Bread Kitchen and it was the first time I ever worked with a group that had a workforce they really wanted to brag about. It’s an easy call [for us to hire someone from Hot Bread Kitchen]. It’s a group of people that are wonderful and are being trained and given support in a way that is helpful for them, for them to be valuable to us. In the food & beverage world, what matters most is the stepping stones and fundamentals. This is how you use a knife, this is how you clean up, this is how you work with people–it’s the building blocks. It’s as important for new hires to know a recipe as it is to know and understand an employer’s expectations, and I think that’s something Hot Bread Kitchen does well [in preparing its members].
Every Hot Bread Kitchen candidate I’ve ever met has a real interest in being in a kitchen. They have a lot of love for the food they know and a curiosity and interest in food they don’t know. There’s an openness to everybody I’ve met who’s come through Russ & Daughters, along with a “yeah, I can do that” attitude. There’s always a warmth and excitement and strong interest, whether it’s their first time in a kitchen role or not. As someone who interviews a lot of people, you don’t see that a lot.
One question we are always trying to answer is, How do you build on something that has been around for so long, the people know and love? We believe you have to consider what it is that people know and love: the consistency, the feel and culture, the way people connect food to history and family. Everything from the phone call when people call to order from us, to an online experience—people want that hamish, warm hospitality without a lot of pretension. That is what our staff brings. This is a business that was built on herring, a very humble fish. We’re trying to hold both of those things in our hands at the same time. What did people love about us in the past, and how can we continue to do that in a way that’s feasible in the present and for the future?
There are a lot of businesses that talk about culture, but I think you just have to walk the walk, which is what we try to do at Russ & Daughters. Here, we really do treat members of our team with respect, the way they want to be treated and should be treated. It’s more about doing it than talking about doing it. There’s very little upstairs/downstairs here; Niki and Josh [Russ Tupper, co-owner of Russ & Daughters] are Niki and Josh.
Titles are something you have to have, but they don’t have to matter. What does matter is treating people the right way.Avi Bromberg
Like many businesses, we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are obviously balancing that with the challenge of the delta variant. We might be waiting longer than we expected, but we are excited to get back into our spaces, to get back to staffing, to open the doors of our shop to more people. Welcoming people back has been exciting, and we are eager to do that more down the road. I think there are a lot of people who miss us, and we feel the same. It’s a slow process, but in terms of what we are excited about, we are really looking forward to the hum and the buzz of more people coming in and out, that feeling of, oh, yeah—that’s the way it was.”