Barney Greengrass Reopens After Deluge of Bad Publicity; News of Closure Traveled to Kansas City and Back

By Carol Tannenhauser

Barney Greengrass, the Jewish deli and restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets, re-opened on Wednesday afternoon after being closed for six days following a failed Department of Health inspection.

“We’re open for business and the place is in better shape than it’s ever been,” said Gary Greengrass, the owner, in a phone conversation with WSR. Gary’s grandfather, Barney, founded the store in Harlem in 1908. It moved to its current location in 1929. Its status as a New York City icon was confirmed by the way its temporary closing was covered by the media.

For example, The New York Times ran the headline, “Calamity on the Upper West Side: Barney Greengrass is Closed.”

“I never realized how famous we are,” Gary said. “I mean, I know we’re well known, but I didn’t realize that news like this had to go all over the world. It went all over the world,” he marveled. “People read about it in Europe and across the United States. Someone emailed me from Kansas City!”

“All publicity is good publicity,” a 2011 Stanford University study determined, but Gary disagreed.

”You google Barney Greengrass and negative things come up,” he said. ”That’s not a plus. And a lot of the reporting was inaccurate. The people who write about these things have no idea about the devotion and the day-to-day stresses that go into making a store like this function. They don’t realize the toll that something like this takes on everybody. Major TV stations reported that there were 51 violations. There were nine violations. Back in June there were two and we got an A rating.

“I don’t want to make any excuses,” he continued. “I take responsibility. But nobody has gotten sick from my food. That’s the bottom line. I eat here every day. Right now I’m noshing on a sandwich.

”I love my customers and they love me,” he concluded. “I know, because they tell me. We have great relationships that go back generations. This is just a blip, that’s all it is. It’s a little bump in the road, that’s all it is. You gotta look forward.”

FOOD, NEWS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. Bob Lamm says:

      Please count me as someone who loves Barney Greengrass. I greatly admire Gary, just as I greatly admired his father. I’ve eaten there for decades, have taken many friends who’d never been there, and surely will be back there soon for their great food and atmosphere.

      • MorganHH says:

        I couldn’t agree more! So happy Gary is open and I’ll be there with my family tomorrow morning.

    2. geoff says:

      the writer of this article should feel obliged to clarify the discrepancy between the owner’s claim to the number of violations, and the previously reported number of violations.

      enquiring and concerned minds want to know the truth, especially in this day, and age.

      • Carol Tannenhauser says:

        Thanks for your comment, geoff. You’re right. I have since discovered that MSN.com reported 51 violations. They were mistaking “points” for “violations.” Violations are the main categories, each is worth a certain number of points, depending upon severity. The points are totaled up for a final score, which translates into a letter grade. The lower the point score, the better the grade. For a full explanation, go to:
        https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/rii/how-we-score-grade.pdf

        • StevenCinNYC says:

          Thanks. That’s very helpful.

        • Robert Lear says:

          MSN.com needs to retract and clarify as you thankfully did the difference in the number of points (51) and the number of violations (7). While this exaggerated story with its confusion of facts should not be perpetuated, MSN.com needs to step up to the integrity of information plate and own the mistake, just as Gary Greengrass takes responsibility for the 7 cited violations and has corrected them in record time.

    3. Brenda says:

      I have witnessed the decency of this man (Gary) several times. It is painful and unnecessary to repeat inaccuracies

    4. David says:

      As someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 30+ years, I have never eaten or stepped inside Barney Greengrass. The look and smell of lox, herring, whitefish, etc has always made me nauseous, and I am Jewish. Just saying…

    5. Phyllis Roth says:

      You go Gary!
      Barney Greengrass forever!
      xoxooxxo

    6. AnnB says:

      Is this Statement accurate?
      “The Health Department conducted a routine inspection of Barney Greengrass and observed food not held at the correct temperature; close to 300 mouse droppings, including droppings in the kitchen and food storage areas; live roaches in the kitchen; conditions conducive to pests and other food safety concerns. The Department closed the establishment as a temporary measure to protect public health and will authorize reopening once Barney Greengrass has corrected the issues and passed a reopening inspection.”

      • Evan Bando says:

        Yes, that statement is true.

        The two violations in June 2019 (13 points) were 1) Cold food item held above 41º F (smoked fish and reduced oxygen packaged foods above 38 ºF) except during necessary preparation.
        2) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.

        Then, Oct 10, 2019, there were 6 violations (51 points): 1) Hot food items not held at or above 140º F.
        2) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.
        3) Live roaches present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.
        4) Personal cleanliness inadequate. Outer garment soiled with possible contaminant. Effective hair restraint not worn in an area where food is prepared.
        5) Food not protected from potential source of contamination during storage, preparation, transportation, display or service.
        6) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist.

        Then, upon inspection six days later, 3 violations, 11 points: 1) Evidence of mice or live mice present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas.
        2) Filth flies or food/refuse/sewage-associated (FRSA) flies present in facility’s food and/or non-food areas. Filth flies include house flies, little house flies, blow flies, bottle flies and flesh flies. Food/refuse/sewage-associated flies include fruit flies, drain flies and Phorid flies.
        3) Facility not vermin proof. Harborage or conditions conducive to attracting vermin to the premises and/or allowing vermin to exist. Currently, the restaurant is Grade Pending.

        Make what you wish of this information. It is available for all to see for all restaurants in the city at restaurantinspection.nyc.gov.

    7. Catherine says:

      I am happy for Gary Greengrass that he was able to reopen his family business. There’s no other place like it! The DOH provides a necessary service to our city, but boy when they find a violation, everyone knows about it. The restaurant business is one of the hardest of any there is. People will still come back as they should!

    8. CFed says:

      Walking by the story everyday since the closure, I saw how hard they worked to clean things up. I hope the old adage of ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ holds true here. Rooting for the local, passionate, home team!!

    9. Tony says:

      Sorry to say but methinks Barney Greengrass resteth on its laurels.

      On a recent visit, I found the scrambled eggs and lox (a speciality) anemic and over-cooked, the coffee sub-par versus the offerings of local baristas, and the gruff waiter service entirely consistent with what one expects at Peter Luger — another faded institution.

      If you want great UWS appetizers, go to Zabar’s or Murrays. If you want exceptional bagels, be prepared to be wowed at Absolute Bagels. If you want great coffee, go to Birch or Irving Farm. If these standards were available at BG, it would earn its reputation as an UWS culinary icon.

      No excuse for inaccurate reporting of violations and I’m sure Gary is a fine gent.

    10. Mark B says:

      I love this place… and agree there was some misleading reporting… but c’mon. What was NOT misreported was evidence of “fresh” mouse droppings and live roaches in the kitchen. That doesn’t happen from a one-time oversight. That’s chronic and inexcusable sloppiness. Love Gary but he doesn’t seem to “get” the seriousness of his filth. It’s ok cuz “nobody (he’s aware of) ever got sick?” Yuckkkkk

      • Robert Young says:

        1) he mitigated in record time, so it’s clear he “gets” it.
        2) have you been in a commercial kitchen in NYC?

    11. Gail Rogers says:

      It’s been a family tradition since my Mother
      Betty Neustein was friendly with Mo and we all had Lox Onions and Eggs at the first table! No more
      Closings please! Thank you!
      Gail Rogers
      NY NY

    12. jim kelly says:

      hip hip hooray! Gary and his crew are the finest.

    13. Patricia says:

      Look, I feel it was a good thing to call Barney Greengrass up on some health and cleanliness issues. I eat there often and often feel the place could use a good cleaning seeing dust balls and grime in the corners of the floor and under the tables. When you are as busy as they are stuff accumulates over time.
      A little shake up is good and now we are also noticing they are paying attention to how the food is handled which is with a bit more respect and TLC.

    14. Shirley Ariker says:

      A deli cannot be Jewish–people can be.

    15. Adam says:

      Can’t wait to eat at Barney Greengrass next weekend. Keep looking forward Gary and thanks for the great service and delicious lox!