Zabar twin heirs plotting their own food empire

By | November 25, 2019

The 28-year-old twin heirs to the Zabar throne are joining forces to build their own foodie empire 85 years after their grandparents opened a small Upper West Side grocery that has since become a Manhattan institution.

Oliver and Sasha Zabar are no strangers to the food business with Oliver behind Eli’s Night Shift, a craft beer bar on the Upper East Side, and Sasha a co-owner of the Juice Box in the Yale Center for British Art. But they have never worked together — until now.

Their separate foodie worlds collided earlier this year when Sasha, who had been running his own food packing and distribution facility in New Haven, Conn., started talking to Oliver about his latest project: a cocktail bar on the Lower East Side called Devon that opened last November.

“We talked about the changes at Devon, what we liked, what we could change,” Oliver said. “We naturally fell into working together. That is what our family is like. We talk about the family business all the time,” he added.

By June, the brothers opened the Broome Street Bakery, next door to Devon. And earlier this month they launched a new menu and design at Devon — and hired a new chef to boot. Devon is named after their mother, Devon Fredericks, a founder of The Loaves and Fishes Market in Sagaponack, LI.

“It was a natural progression,” Oliver said of their collaboration. “For Eli, it was exciting to have his kids back and working together,” Oliver said of their father, who runs his own empire of E.A.T. and Eli-branded restaurants, bars, markets and pop-ups in Manhattan.

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“Oliver is more front of the house while I’m more numbers and operations,” said Sasha. “We work in very different areas. We complement each other well.”

As part of the revamp, they hired chef Harry Cummins, a Brit whose food they had known and loved in France, to create the menu: a mix of small bites made using ingredients from the family bakery and Upper East Side greenhouse.

“It can definitely be dinner or light bites before or after you go out for dinner,” Oliver said of the dishes, which include Maine crab toast; baby eggplant with a sweet miso glaze; and salt-and-vinegar tempura with seasonal vegetables and oyster mayo.

Cocktails include a mix of fresh-squeezed carrot juice with cloves and Mezcal called Strange Overtones, and a concoction of Japanese whisky, ginger and cucumber in a drink called Cool Hand Luke.

The Zabar-family foodie empire launched in 1934, when the twins’ grandparents opened Zabar’s, a 22-foot Jewish grocery store on the Upper West Side known for quality coffee and smoked fish. That store, which now occupies nearly an entire block front, is now run by the twins’ two uncles.

Coming from a foodie dynasty certainly helps, said Sasha. “We are lucky that we have our own in-house teams — carpenters, electricians, contractors, architects — who work for us. We can afford to move things around and play around, reworking and revising constantly in the space, figuring out what isn’t working, and fixing it.”

So what was it like to grow up Zabar? There were perks. But there was also a lot of work.

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“We cooked at night and our vacations were food-focused,” Sasha said. “We have a house in the south of France where we produce olive oil and other things, and we were always traveling, meeting cheesemakers, winemakers, bakers, tasting charcuterie. Everything we did was always tied to food.”

“What’s not to love,” adds Oliver.

The flip side is that they worked while friends vacationed.

“The Jewish holidays up to New Year’s were our busiest time. Holidays didn’t begin until after January 1st,” Sasha said.

“Eli threw us in there as young kids, and had such a passion for food,” Sasha said. “He made jokes all the time about how our family wasn’t one to brunch on the weekends. We are always working. We watched how he created. We aren’t just pushing numbers and money around. This is real work.”

Expect more projects from the twins next year — like bringing Noglu, a Paris-founded gluten free bakery, downtown. Eli, in partnership with Noglu’s founder, opened an outpost of the bakery on the Upper East Side in 2016.

The brothers also plan to revamp their father’s gourmet food shop E.A.T., which launched in 1953, for its 50th anniversary. They will likely launch a downtown E.A.T. as well.

Living | New York Post