An Upper East Side Favorite Grocer Reopens Monday, With More Room

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The earth was built in seven days, so the story goes.

“But Butterfield was built in eight,” says Alan Obsatz.

He’s owned Butterfield Market since the 1970’s, when he first moved to an apartment above the Lexington Avenue store, near East 79th Street.

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The popular grocer closed its doors on March 22 for a full renovation — and to connect it with a new corner space recently acquired by the market, which will boost their space by an additional 1,000 square feet for a total of roughly 3,000 square feet.

In the new space, Butterfield Market will add in a new espresso and breakfast bakery area, where customers rushing to the nearby 6 train station or Lenox Hill Hospital can pop in and grab an on-the-go meal. The area will also contain a chef’s table with an array of sandwiches, and a sushi counter.

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Since purchasing the circa 1915 upscale market on Lexington Avenue, Obsatz, 77, has moved (to another unit in the building, where he lives to this day), brought his children — Joelle and Evan — into the business, and opened a second retail location on Madison Avenue and East 85th Street in 2020.

But last year when the longtime florist next door — Windsor Florist — decided to close up shop and focus on their Second Avenue location, Butterfield jumped on an opportunity they haven’t had since the store last renovated in 1993 and expanded into a small, neighboring haberdashery shop.

Years earlier, the market had also taken over a neighboring electrical shop.

“My dad gave that guy CPR once,” Joelle said.

Growing up above the family grocery business, Joelle says she viewed the market as an extension of her kitchen as a child.

She remembers her mother saying “thank goodness we have a store” growing up whenever her football-playing brother had his large, hungry friends over.

“They used to put me on top of the freezer in the store,” Joelle told Patch, “and I would just draw pictures.”

When Patch visited on Wednesday for an exclusive preview of the space, there wasn’t a freezer in sight: only workers, equipment and loads of wood and tile from wall to wall.

After the market closed on Friday — with stock timed to minimize the loss of food — workers rushed to clear out the space, stripping it nearly bare aside from the floors, and have been working non-stop since.

Even without after-hour work permits, Obsatz said they were confident in their one-week makeover.

The biggest change is apparent from Lexington Avenue — a gaping hole in the store where nearly every passerby stopped to gawk their heads in.

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“We’re expanding our froyo,” Joelle said of the massive missing wall.

That whole section, she said, is now going to be for their mega-popular frozen yogurt window, equipped with an additional register and froyo machine, plus at least one new flavor (vanilla).

Other changes customers will notice include a much-expanded — and dedicated — cheese section, more prepared and ready-to-cook foods, space for featured and new products, more freezer space, more breads and baked goods, more fresh local produce

The expansion was more opportunistic than planned.

At the time last spring, Butterfield was finishing up a search for a new kitchen space, to expand from their current East 92nd Street facility.

They ended up with a 10,000-square-foot facility at the base of a new residential building in Long Island City, which will also have a small, 1,000-square-foot retail market.

But don’t mistake the timing of the two projects for a strategic Butterfield expansion plan, Joelle said.

Their only planned expansion is to bring in the next generation of Obsatz’s. Maybe.

“My daughter is nine. She’s in kindergarten,” Joelle told Patch. “She’s like: ‘I want to work in Butterfield.’ She told my mom she wants to be a cashier.”

In her daughter’s words: “You gotta start somewhere.”

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