RIP Kenny Shopsin
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.
Horrible horrible news today: NYC’s impossibly great Kenny Shopsin has left the planet. For those who don’t know Shopsins, his daughter Tamara made a great book in 2017 about the restaurant and the world Kenny embodied: https://t.co/c8ar5F2x19
— matt sweeney (@theheavyjamz) September 3, 2018
Rest easy, Kenny Shopsin, this world won’t see your like again. https://t.co/PYa6MFMvXe
— The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) September 3, 2018
I’m saddened to learn of the passing of my friend and Greenwich Village Legend Kenny Shopsin. Living in New York, (in particular The West Village) in the 1980’s was one of the most magical… https://t.co/J9VQwd4MhH
— Maria Mckee (@realmariamckee) September 3, 2018
Word seems to have gotten out that Kenny Shopsin passed away yesterday. I have no photos of him in the restaurant because why? What photo could capture everything I ate and learned from… https://t.co/FLhoKHAMgP
— John Hodgman (@hodgman) September 3, 2018
RIP NYC’s voluable & opinionated short order genius, Mr Kenny Shopsin…. pic.twitter.com/uFJn01UCFP
— Adam Platt (@plattypants) September 3, 2018
I loved Kenny Shopsin. He/Eve fed me for free when I was broke. Like everyone, our friendship was based on profane barbs flung back & forth at each other. The magic of Bedford St has so many memories. I’ve more to say, but for now- #AllOurCooksWearCondoms #RIPkennyShopsin #EatMe
— Lizz “Pecker Watcher " Winstead (@lizzwinstead) September 3, 2018