Lauren Biederman on Her Lox-Slicing Pet Peeves and the Power of Noodle Kugel
Lauren Biederman has built a devoted following of fish-inclined Philadelphians. Three years after opening Biederman's Specialty Foods, here's what she's learned.
Behind the Line is Foobooz’s interview series with the people who make up Philly’s dynamic bar and restaurant scene. For the complete archives, go here.
Biederman’s Specialty Foods is a Jewish appetizing store set just off the main drag of the Italian Market. The shop opened in December 2020 serving superlative smoked fish sliced to order, tubs of whitefish salad, and lavish brunch boards decked out with belly lox and the occasional dollop of caviar. The shop is the brainchild of Lauren Biederman, an industry veteran who looked around in the summer of 2020 and realized she wanted to capture the energy of the Jewish delis she grew up visiting in New York. As Biederman’s enters their third year of business, Lauren and I spoke about kugel, where she sources her fish, and her proudest moments as an owner.
I grew up in … Vermont, but I have a lot of family in New York and Connecticut, so we used to go down there a lot. We didn’t go to high-end Jewish appetizing stores, more like little Jewish delis.
The concept behind Biederman’s came to me … kind of out of nowhere. I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 14 or 15. So in the middle of 2020, I was just waiting to go back to that. But then I had a couple of conversations with people in my family where they all said to me, separately, that I should really do my own thing. And then later that night, I was spitballing ideas to my older brother, and I said, “What if I open a lox store?” He really liked the idea.
I chose the Italian Market as the location for the shop because … I knew I wanted to be in the Bella Vista and Queen Village area because there are a lot of Jewish people here. But it all happened really fast. I saw this building and I never saw another one. I signed the lease immediately, within two weeks of the idea of forming. It was maybe July 30th that I thought of it. Then, by September 1st, I had the keys. So it was very quick. But it actually took me over a month to buy anything because I was too scared.
Our fish comes from … Samaki Smoked Fish. I was trying to figure out where I was going to source from, and I reached out to them. I saw that they were relatively close to us, and then read some of their stories. They use wood-fired kilns to smoke all the fish. It’s really just the highest quality fish.
The secret to slicing lox is … it takes time and a very sharp knife. I had a chef friend offer to come teach me. There are two ways to cut. We use the D cut, which is kind of a half-moon shape.
I prefer a D cut because … I like smaller cuts. I think they fit better on a bagel. Lots of places in New York like to do “the London style,” which is when you slice very long strips across the top of the fish. I personally don’t love that, because it doesn’t lay on a bagel quite as easily.
My favorite thing we sell is … Gene’s noodle kugel. It’s so nostalgic for me. Gene says he makes it “how your grandmother tried to make it.”
Gene is … Eugene Mopsik, my first employee. He and his daughter knocked on the door before we were even open and he asked me for a job. I didn’t think I could hire anyone so I said no. But as soon as we got busy, I realized I definitely needed some help. So I called Gene and he’s been with me ever since. It’s kind of amazing. I mean, he’s a Jew from Connecticut. And he grew up at a Jewish summer camp, he used to cook at one, and he has made all these foods for his whole life.
I’m most proud of … how much of a community we’ve built inside the store. I would say 50-to-60 percent of our customers are regulars, at least twice a month, if not weekly, which is something that I had never anticipated. I’m really, really proud of that. Because having that kind of interaction where I know so many people by name, so many people rely on us for weekly grocery staples, I had no idea how important that would be to some people.