Lauren Biederman started working in the restaurant industry when she was 15.
After bussing tables and hosting, she moved to serving and bartending, later taking courses in wine and earning several certificates. In 2017, the Killington, Vermont, native moved to Philadelphia, where she worked at Osteria and Zahav.
And a little over 10 years since her first restaurant gig, she wants her new store, Biederman’s Specialty Foods, to be Philadelphia’s premiere destination for artisanal smoked fish.
Biederman’s Specialty Foods is modeled on “appetizing shops,” the stores selling cold appetizers characteristic of Eastern European Ashkenazi cuisine, that Biederman grew up frequenting with family in New York.
“My grandmother was born in Philadelphia, actually, and moved to New York City,” she said. “My whole family lives either in Brooklyn or in Connecticut. So, every time we go down there that’s kind of what we eat. My dad shows up to Thanksgiving with two kilos of salmon, and always bagels and cheeses and cheesecakes from New York. It was kind of just the tradition of the family.”
While Biederman oversees the day-to-day operations of the business, her family has been instrumental in getting it going. Her father, now in New Hampshire, helped with planning. Her younger brother, Evan Biederman, a recent college graduate, is one of her employees. Two older brothers have offered their expertise as contractors.
Biederman’s fish, which ranges from classic smoked salmon, herring and whitefish to vodka-cured gravlax, will be sourced from a variety of smokehouses. One of her main suppliers is Samaki Smoked Fish in New York state, and she is also working on orders from purveyors in Ireland, Scotland, Alaska and Canada.
In addition to smoked fish, the shop at 824 Christian St. will offer maple syrup, cheese, tomato sauce and produce from Vermont. Biederman is receiving orders of butter from France and local items like bagels from Kaplan’s New Model Bakery and pastries from vegan Jewish baking pop-up Lil’ Yenta’s.
“It’s more of a curation of things that I would like to see,” Biederman said.
Biederman has crowdsourced ideas from the Bella Vista Neighbors Association, asking members about their favorite kinds of fish and what they would like to see in stock. Biederman’s has sold takeout brunch boards with bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish, olives and pastries to test the waters before the official opening on Jan. 15.
“Those are very helpful, to have input,” she said.
Although not all of the items at Biederman’s will be kosher, there will be plenty of kosher options, and the dietary status of all items will be clearly marked.
“All of the fish that comes from Samaki is going to be kosher certified. We will not have any meat in-house ever,” she said. “We are getting most of our baked goods from kosher bakeries.”
Due to the pandemic, the shop will offer takeout and online ordering only when it opens. Biederman hopes to offer cafe-style seating outdoors, and later indoors, once it is safe to do so.
Eugene Mopsik was walking to the Italian Market with his daughter on Christian Street one weekend in December when he saw the sign for the new appetizing shop. Intrigued, he ducked in and struck up a conversation with Biederman.
When he learned about her business idea, the New York transplant was reminded of the smoked fish shops he frequented with his father on the Lower East Side as a boy, and of the smoked fish he sampled during his world travels as a freelance photographer.
“At one point, I said to Lauren, ‘Do you need an old Jewish guy in the shop?’” he said.
He had knife skills from his time working at an Orthodox summer camp kitchen as a high school and college student, and Biederman welcomed him aboard. Now, he helps out slicing fish and produce.
“I was looking for something to keep me a little busier. I have some nonprofit board work that I do, but something in the food service industry was an exciting opportunity for me,” Mopsik said.
So far, one of his favorite items is the pastrami-smoked salmon from Samaki. The fish is rubbed with pepper, coriander, paprika, mustard and other spices, which creates a blackened flavorful coating.
“It’s fabulous,” he said. “It’s beautiful to look at, it slices nice, it’s just got wonderful flavor.”
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