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RIP Kenny Shopsin

Kenny in his natural habitat (photo via @Shopsins)
Kenny in his natural habitat (photo via @Shopsins)

New York City lost a true original. Kenny Shopsin, philosopher, chef and owner of Shopsin’s General Store, has died. Kenny opened the original Shopsin’s on Bedford and Morton in the Village in 1973, and was mainly a neighborhood restaurant — known for its rules (no copying your neighbor’s order, no groups of five), its insanely deep menu (900 items at one point) filled with items like original creations like Slutty Cakes, Blisters on My Sister, and macaroni and cheese pancakes, and Kenny’s no-bullshit approach to everything.  A cult grew around it, especially after New Yorker food critic Calvin Trillin wrote a piece on Shopsin’s in 2002:

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

”It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

”They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

”I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

The restaurant moved a couple times, ending up in the Essex Market in the Lower East Side. His foul mouth and temper drew as many people to Shopsin’s as it turned away, but Kenny was a sweetheart underneath that grease-stained apron. Rest in peace, Kenny, you were one of a kind.

There’s a great 2004 documentary about Kenny and Shopsin’s called I Like Killing Flies that is sadly not on any streaming services (and is out of print on DVD), but you can watch a few clips from it — and a few other videos with Kenny — below. Easier to get your hands on is Kenny’s 2008 cookbook Eat Me that, in addition to recipes for some of Shopsin’s most famous dishes, it’s also a manifesto of sorts on his philosophy on food and of life. It’s great even if you don’t cook. Kenny’s daughter, Tamara, wrote memoir Arbitrary Stupid Goal last year which is also worth checking out.

Read a few tributes to Kenny from John Darnielle, John Hodgman, and more, below.

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