Chopped Liver Shortage Has Zabar’s Nervous; ‘Customers Get Very Very Cranky’

Some say chopped liver is in short supply on the Upper West Side. Others say “I got a guy for that.” Photo by Mushki Brichta.

By Michael McDowell

It’s tough these days to purchase all sorts of products, from paper goods to baking supplies. Don’t get us started on toilet paper.

More scarcity is on the horizon. According to Scott Goldshine, who has managed Zabar’s for more than forty years, the neighborhood will soon be forced to contend with the scarcity of something else that many Upper West Siders can’t live without.

“If you want chopped liver, you ain’t gonna get it,” Goldshine told the Rag. “Nobody has chicken liver, no matter who you call, whatever connections you have—I don’t care what chef you know—no one’s got it.”

Last week, Goldshine had five pounds of the essential ingredient—chicken liver—on hand. Zabar’s, which makes its chopped chicken liver in house, typically sells approximately 500 pounds each week, much of which is shipped across the country.

“There are times that we can’t keep up with demand,” he admitted. “We may be out for a couple hours at a time during Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.”

“Customers get very, very cranky when we don’t have it,” he continued. “And that would be now, but they’re all starting to understand that we live in a different world, that things are going to be a little different for awhile. They’ve been more depressed than anything else—no one’s having an attack, as opposed to Yom Kippur.”

“‘What do you mean you don’t have liver? I need that right before the gefilte fish!’”

Is there any hope?

“Every single supplier that we have called—between myself and the chef we know about 10-12 different possible places we could get it—not a single, solitary one has any liver,” he sighed.

“If that’s the worst thing that happens, we’ll live.”

Could there be anything worse than a chopped chicken liver shortage on the Upper West Side? The Rag sprinted ten blocks up Broadway to Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, where Ira Goller reassured an anxious reporter.

Ira Goller.

“We have not experienced a shortage,” Goller said. “We have plenty of chicken liver, and we make our own chopped chicken liver in house.”

Vegetarian liver, even—anything is possible. The ingredients?

“String beans, walnuts, sautéed onions, eggs, salt and pepper,” Goller listed. “We’ve been selling that for about 25 years.”

“A lot of people get squeamish at the thought of chopped liver, but that’s because they’re used to the heavier taste of meat livers. When you say ‘chopped liver’, it could be anything.”

Goller paused.

“What’s the difference between a merry-go-round and a carousel?”

The thing and the thing-in-itself, the Rag hazarded.

“No. One goes one way, one goes the other way. If there’s two words to describe the same item, they must have different meanings. “Chopped liver indicates it could be beef, it could be lamb, it could be anything,” he said. “See, chopped liver is not chopped chicken liver.”

Just as no man or woman steps into the same river twice, no preparation of chopped chicken liver is like another.

“Our chopped chicken liver is soft, it’s light, and it’s sweet,” Goller affirmed. “And by the way, there is no problem so far as the fish chain supply chain is concerned.”

At the counter, a woman eyed glistening lox and a sumptuous array of prepared foods.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said, hesitating, in the midst of an elaborate order. “I want this kugel, this one closest to me,” she pointed.

Over on Amsterdam, Gary Greengrass was surrounded by invoices. Boxes arranged along the counter were ready to ship, addressed to Brooklyn, Sag Harbor, Palm Beach, and as far away as Minocqua, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles, California.

Gary Greengrass.

“Those are FedEx. Some of them have chopped liver in them, believe it or not” Greengrass said. “We pack it in ice and ship it overnight, gets there the next morning.”

“I’ve sent liver as far as somewhere in Hawaii,” he laughed. “They need their fix.”

Although it may not be advertised online—it’s the most perishable item Greengrass sells—chopped chicken liver is available.

“The classic way to have it is on rye with a slice of onion,” he explained. “But some people have it as an hors d’oeuvres, on a Tam Tam cracker. It’s one of those traditional items that binds us generations together a little bit. We use a sweet onion, chicken fat—schmaltz—and that gives it a great flavor.”

Merry-go-round or carousel? Would Greengrass weigh in?

“That’s a good one,” he nodded. “I guess he’s spinning his wheels.”

Back at Zabar’s, Scott Goldshine was still looking for chicken livers. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

“There is somebody I’m talking to who says he can get something, but I don’t want to say anything until it appears in the store. Maybe next week.”

ABSURDITY, FOOD | 23 comments | permalink
    1. Tony says:

      The chopped liver at Murray’s is the best I’ve eaten and I’ve been an avid fan for over 20 years. Now, if they could only add home-cured, hand-sliced, hot corned beef on rye I’d move in!😉

    2. Shmuel says:

      I seduced my wife 46 years ago by hand feeding her chopped liver from Barney’s that was made by Gary’s mother, that wonderful sweet woman, may she rest in peace

      • Paul says:

        Barney’s does it the way my grandmother did and that’s all I need to know.

        By the way, which came first, the chopped chicken liver or the egg salad?

    3. The Mayven says:

      No chopped chicken liver? Who cares? Chopped chicken liver is not exactly feh!, but chopped beef liver is so much tastier.

    4. JerryV says:

      Why is Zabars shipping much of its chopped liver out of town and depriving its loyal, local customers. What are we…chopped liver??

    5. Nancy says:

      Murray Sturgeon Shop has delious vegetarian chop liver and top quality choices .
      Efficient, warm and friendly staff… especially OSCAR!

    6. Janice says:

      Ah Shanda

    7. Gail Klein says:

      I just bought some yesterday at Zabar’s! Good timing! It was delicious, by the way. 😋

    8. Penny says:

      This is an exceptionally well-reported article. Bravo!

    9. Dan says:

      First toilet paper, then disinfectant, now chopped liver!

    10. Rob says:

      Hopefully Zabar’s won’t run out of lox due to Cornova virus.

    11. Sarah says:

      “The thing and the thing-in-itself, the Rag hazarded.”

      The Rag takes an unexpectedly Kantian turn!

    12. carol says:


    13. A. HAROUSH says:

      Can you believe I have never actually eaten chopped liver!
      As for the chicken liver, this too shall pass!

    14. Michael G says:

      Truly the most philosophical WSR article yet.

    15. Anita says:

      Don’t complain. Make your own. I used to make bowls of it for bar/bas mitzvahs.



    17. sf says:

      like Zabar’s, but before Fairway went ch11, thought their “chopped liver” better. not tried the others, but now may have to experiment.

    18. bob says:

      serve rich, entitled people, get yelled at. a day in the life of a retail worker in manhattan.