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The Next Generation: Peter Luger Steakhouse

By Kathleen Squires
December 13, 2013

It’s New York City’s, if not the world’s, most iconic steakhouse: Brooklyn's Peter Luger has been famous for it's serving massive porterhouse steaks to share for over a century. Founded in 1887 by Carl Luger as a pool hall and bowling alley with simple fare, the spot started slinging steaks when son Peter took it over. Upon Peter’s death, son Frederick took over the restaurant in 1941, but he didn’t have the same golden touch of his ancestors. In 1950, he put the then-failing restaurant up for auction. A regular customer named Sol Forman, who owned the factory across the street, was the only bidder to show up. Three generations later, the Forman family still runs the spot. We sat down with Amy Rubenstein, Sol Forman’s daughter; Jody Storch, Sol Forman’s granddaughter; and Storch’s cousin David Berson to hear the story of Luger’s second family.

  • The Family

    When Sol Forman took over the restaurant, he didn’t know a lick about the business. So he retained the staff and learned on his feet. He put the menu in place that would become the model for years to come - steak, creamed spinach, hash browns, shrimp cocktail - and he made some other significant changes. “He was the first one to bring in a scale,” Jody Storch says. “Before when they ordered meat, they would just call up and have it delivered. My grandfather said, 'You guys have to actually check that you're getting what you're being billed for.'”

    Introducing the meat selection process was also a major change. Today, Storch, Rubenstein and Marilyn Spiera (Rubenstein’s sister and Storch’s mother) are in charge of selecting the USDA Prime Beef, a skill passed down by Marsha Forman, Sol’s wife and the grande dame of prime cuts. Marsha had hired a retired USDA inspector to show her the ropes when the Formans took over the restaurant, and she soon became a notable presence in the then-seedy Meatpacking District, in her white coat and fur hat.

    “I remember going with her,” Storch says. “The first time, I think I was eight years old. I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow!' I couldn't believe it. I was actually vegetarian for about two weeks after that. It’s funny being a woman in that part of the business, because you really had to prove yourself to the guys. You'd walk in there and there would be nudie calendars. The juxtaposition of the nude women and the carcasses of beef hanging was very disturbing,” Storch adds, laughing.

  • The Legacy

    Today, Storch, her mother Marilyn and Rubenstein buy the meat. Rubenstein also develops the wine list and Storch is in charge of product development, such as the Peter Luger steak sauce.

    While Marilyn Spiera has been president of the company since the 1960s, Rubenstein came on board a little later, via a bit of a guilt trip from her father. “My parents used to take off on these long cruises and go to Asia on the QE2 for 90 days, and different things like that,” she says. “My father came to me before one of his trips and he said, 'How could you leave your sister like that? How are you going to leave her alone? I'll give you a deal. First, learn the meat. And then you can work three days a week. You don't have to leave until your children leave for school and you can come back before they come home.' That was the deal; that's what I did.”

  • Joining the Family Business

    Storch joined her mother and her aunt about 20 years ago. “I was enrolled to go to law school,” she recalls. “And I came to Peter Luger to work the summer before I was supposed to go. But then I felt that law school would have really been a mistake for me. So I deferred and I stayed here. I enjoyed being with the family. At the time, it was my grandfather, my grandmother, my aunt and my mother. So it was very special to be with everybody. My family, they're tremendous people. But…their work ethic is bordering on illness,” Storch jokes.

  • The Next Generation

    Spiera, Storch and Rubenstein currently spend time mentoring Berson, who is the newest addition to the team. “I'm still in school to get my BA,” he explains. “And I'm just trying to soak everything up and learn from each of them. I work part-time in the restaurant. I spend a little time in the office across the street with them. I'm just trying to get my bearings and go from there. I've gone with them to pick the meat. I've dealt with different situations, like our beer - we're now in the process of trying to craft our own beer.” 

    “I worked in the kitchen for a little while, but I was not good. I was jamming them up, so I quit that," he says. "I knew I was not good at it and that I could not be of any assistance back there.” Overall, Berson says that he sees the restaurant industry as a good fit for him, despite his aversion to the kitchen. “I've always loved the restaurant industry and I've always loved this place and I've loved what it's meant to my family. So it's been very redeeming to be able to help out, and to continue what's been in the family since 1950.”

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