With the passing of Kenny Shopsin of Shopsin’s General Store, there’s a diner-sized hole in the heart of NYC. Though it’s easy to write him off as a colorful caricature — the brash New Yorker who for decades ran the legendary diner-style restaurant while dropping F-bombs like shards of diner dishes — he was actually more than his grumpy exterior.
You won’t find anything else like Shopsin’s, the tiny eatery in the Lower East Side’s Essex Street Market. A set of rules famously governs the place, including: no parties larger than four, no cellphone use and no ordering the same thing as another customer. The guidelines are intimidating to some and serve as a challenge to others — either way they kept out the folks Shopsin didn’t want to entertain, whether they stayed away or he kicked them out.
“My approach at Shopsin’s is the exact opposite of ‘the customer is always right,’ ” he said in his book, “Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.”
“Until I know the people, until they show me that they are worth cultivating as customers, I’m not even sure I want their patronage.” Shopsin, who died Sunday at age 76, wanted those who enjoyed his food rather than those who just exchanged money for a meal.
You’ve got to love the man who gave us Mac and Cheese pancakes, “Slutty Cakes” and “Blisters on My Sisters.” Shopsin’s menu grew to the famed 900 entries, with a tiny typeface squished at all angles on a colorful and dizzying paper menu. Shopsin was possessive of the dishes as well: You could have whatever you want, just don’t make fussy requests. Shopsin wouldn’t send food out of his kitchen he wasn’t proud of, so if your edits made him feel any other way, there’s a good chance you’re getting kicked out.
With his gruff exterior serving to carry out his vision, Shopsin embodied the kind of old-school New Yorker they don’t make anymore — passionate, authentic and unique. So let’s raise an egg cream to his legacy, but just don’t bring more than four people.
Tara Cox is the author of “Airstream: The Silver RV.”