Staubitz Market in Brooklyn: 100 Years of Sawdust, Steaks and Chops

By September 19, 2017 25 comments Permalink

A screen door slams, and a customer’s shoes shuffle across a hardwood floor sprinkled with sawdust. Behind a polished glass counter filled with carefully arranged steaks, lamb chops and other pristine cuts of meat stand several butchers, thick through the shoulders and hands, shiny with confidence and wearing aprons as white as copy paper. If the men are not in the middle of preparing an order, they are chatting with the regular customers. It’s 1917 in Staubitz Market on Court Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Or is it 2017?

Not much has changed inside Staubitz Market in 100 years. There is electricity, but there are also the original tin ceilings and marble counters, the stained glass at the storefront, and the mirrored back wall framed in millwork. Even the cashier’s booth, ensconced in wood and cut glass, remains (though the cashier is gone). And there is the hard evidence of history: Four large photographs, high on the wall behind the counter, show some of the staff throughout the years — 1920, 1980, 1990, 2007.

In the 1980 photo is a shaggy-haired John McFadden Jr., 13, on his tiptoes at the very back, the most junior employee here that day, raising his cherubic face to the camera to be included among his co-workers. Now Mr. McFadden is 50, and one of the shop’s owners. In 1955, his father had stumbled into Staubitz as a 19-year-old looking for the unemployment office. The elder Mr. McFadden managed to impress Martin Lang, the store’s second owner, who had bought the shop from the founder, John Staubitz. Mr. Lang hired Mr. McFadden and, in 1967 sold the shop to him. Mr. McFadden has now owned the shop for about 50 years. Father and son operate it together, in very much the same manner it has been run for a century.

Here there are no trappings, no sandwiches or prepared foods, no fair-trade coffee percolating or craft beer chilling — items that have become commonplace at some trendy specialty shops and other old-school butchers. There’s a lowboy display case with some frozen items, and the meager shelf space is stocked with jars and cans, but there’s only one reason shoppers visit Staubitz Market: meat.

“The art of butchery is pretty limited,” John Jr. said with a shrug. “Not too many people duplicate what we have here, so we decided to make that our main focus. My father and I hand select everything that comes into the store.”

Margaret Harty has been coming to Staubitz Market regularly since 1997. “Whether I need a single chicken breast or roast beef for 20, Staubitz’s butchers are always happy to help,” Ms. Harty said. “My daughters’ earliest memories include a lollipop being passed over the counter along with our meat order. John and his wonderful staff know their names and even remember their ages.”

Mr. McFadden, 81, remembers a different Cobble Hill. “Originally, this neighborhood had eight or 10 butchers, but they all went under; they couldn’t stand through the transition,” he said. “As the others died out, their customers came to us. And business is better today than it ever was.”

When asked if Staubitz Market would be around for another 100 years, Mr. McFadden seemed hopeful. “I think it will be,” he said, “if John can pass it on to his son” (John Jr.’s son, Aidan, is 12).

“That’s up to him,” John Jr. responded, spreading him arms. “Let’s just say the door’s open; he can step through it if he wants.”

Correction: June 25, 2017 
An article last Sunday about Staubitz Market, a 100-year-old butcher shop in Brooklyn, misidentified its neighborhood. The shop is in Cobble Hill, not in Boerum Hill.Published on The New York Times: Staubitz Market in Brooklyn: 100 Years of Sawdust, Steaks and Chops

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