In the week between Christmas and New Years — a particularly busy week for Biederman’s Specialty Foods — owner Lauren Biederman processed between 200-300 pounds of smoked fish, but she still isn’t sick of the stuff.
For her New Year’s Eve meal, she dined on fondue, caviar and the requisite champagne, and for brunch the next day, a bagel spread with her choice of Scottish salmon or pastrami lox or whitefish salad, topped off with trout roe.
“Sounds pretty perfect to me,” Biederman said.
Biederman’s Specialty Foods will mark its second birthday on Jan. 15. The shop on Christian Street, despite its home in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, is undeniably Jewish: Designed after New York’s appetizing stores, Biederman’s serves schools of smoked fish, from the classic Nova and kippered salmon to Scandinavian spins such as vodka dill gravlax.
Beyond their fileted fare, Biederman serves a swath of caviar — though the true caviar from a sturgeon is not kosher — as well as other specialty goods, such as tinned fish, Kaplan’s New Model Bakery bagels and New York’s Seed + Mill halvah.
Biederman, 27 and a Queen Village resident, grew up with Jewish appetizing stores ingrained in her childhood. Hailing from Killington, Vermont, she would frequent the tri-state area, visiting appetizing stories in Bridgeport and Fairfield, Connecticut, where her grandmother is from, in addition to the myriad appetizing stores in New York, a result of the Eastern European immigrants, with deep cultural roots of preserving fish, who settled there.
“My family, we would go into New York City all the time when I was a kid,” Biederman said. “For Christmas, we’d do dim sum in Chinatown and then appetizers the next day.”
Biederman shied away from calling Biederman’s an appetizing store because she was worried that few people would recognize the homage or understand what she was selling. But the location of the store at 824 Christian St. transports the shop to a feeling that Biederman’s New York ancestors may have experienced a century ago.
“The Italian market, to me, is one of the more special places in the world,” Biederman said.
“Most of these businesses are 100 years old, third-generation families are operating them — or fourth generation maybe — and it’s been pretty nice,” she continued. “I do feel like the Italian Market embraces lots of different cultures now, more than just Italian food. Obviously, you have tons of Mexican food; there’s tons of Vietnamese food or spice shops.”
The community there has welcomed Biederman’s, which, as a new company, is continuing the specialty food tradition defined by the neighborhood.
Biederman has also spent almost half her life in food service, adding to her pedigree. At 15, she began busing and hosting at Three Tomatoes Trattoria, an Italian joint with a Jewish owner that her family frequented throughout her childhood.
From there, she worked at a steakhouse in Burlington, then a nightclub and later a French restaurant, before going to the University of Vermont. Biederman never formally studied hospitality or the culinary arts.
Instead, she moved to Philadelphia, attracted by the city’s food scene, and continued her front-of-house work at Osteria and Zahav. Her work as a waitress only grew her love of food.
“It’s a very boring job if you don’t care about the food a lot,” she said. “And it’s a lot more fulfilling if you do care about those things and if you have that same respect for the back of house and for the people who are actually doing the cooking.”
By the time Biederman was thinking about moving on, she became interested in opening a specialty food shop, excited by the idea of selling what she loved to eat. Specialty stores were also having a moment of popularity, with customers able to buy unique foods they could cook at home during the pandemic. But the time of the store’s opening was precarious: January 2021 marked a spike in COVID cases.
When the store first opened, only three people were allowed to enter at a time, creating a line down the block, adding to Biederman’s image as a popular store. But with no more COVID restrictions at the store, the line out the door at Biederman’s is still there, sometimes.
The store now has three full-time workers, and Biederman said the holiday season was busy.
“I was nervous that I wasn’t getting the word out there fast enough,” Biederman said. “But it seemed to have worked.”