It seems you can’t miss Murray’s Cheese, the well-known South Village shop devoted to all things cheese, these days. They were recently featured in the New York Times and the food blog Eater, all for what Villagers have known for a long time: Murray’s is a true Village treasure. The Greenwich Village Society awarded the shop a Village Award in 2000 – when the store was located across the street at 257 Bleecker, back before they had cheese caves, classes, and all the press.
Rob Kaufelt, Murray’s Cheese owner, chews the fat with GVSHP.
Murray’s Cheese has been in business since 1940, and you have owned the store since 1991, moving it from Cornelia, then from one side of Bleecker Street to the other. If you had to pick just one thing, what do you think is the biggest difference between the store now and when Louis Tudda owned it? What is most similar? Louis bought the store from Murray (he died before I moved here so I never met him). It was the classic American tale: the Jewish immigrant sold to the Italian immigrant! The neighborhood was still very much the old neighborhood from what I heard. I learned a lot from the Zito brothers a couple of doors down about the history of our block – how it was always a food street. So though I was the new kid, I respected that tradition. We still have Rocco’s and Ottomanelli’s and Faicco’s, but the neighborhood is changing. Murray’s is just keeping pace with the times. Most similar? The store was really run then by Frankie and Cielo and guess what? Frankie is still running Murray’s as the Buyer/Merchandiser, and Cielo still owns the counter.
You have been a good friend to GVSHP’s efforts to landmark the South Village, serving on the organization’s South Village Preservation Project Advisory Board. So what does the neighborhood mean to you? I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, but as a young adult lived in the ‘burbs. I traveled a lot, but I never really felt at home anywhere ’til I moved to the Village. When Dave Van Ronk, the great folk singer, was alive, he’d come in to shop. Eventually he gave me guitar lessons, and we became friends. He said he hated to go on the road because he hated to leave the neighborhood at all. I feel that way sometimes myself. Change is inevitable but I’m crazy about tradition. And I like old buildings, too.
There’s a rumor floating that you might be expanding the Bleecker Street store into the former Lobster Place on Bleecker. Will Murray’s be expanding its Village presence? The lobster guys were great, but they said they need a big space to do their thing like the one they’ve got in the Chelsea Market. Soon you’ll see lots of new goodies, cheese and otherwise, for the holidays, then after the new year we’ll introduce some very cool new things.
If you could only eat one type of cheese for the rest of your life, what kind would it be? That’s easy: Parmigiano Reggiano. It was the best seller twenty years ago and still is. For good reason.
Murray Greenberg was the first owner of the store. (Check out this wonderful history of the store on the Murray’s Cheese website). Why didn’t you change the name? The word cheese makes me smile. The word Murray’s makes me smile. Do you see anyone smiling at a shop named Rob’s?