Allen Honig has lost count of how many shivas Poultry Mart has catered. But when he announced on Facebook that the 72-year-old Great Neck institution would close, the shop itself assumed that bittersweet tenor of friends and family gathering to mourn a loved one.
“It seems that’s what’s going on now,” he said before the July 30 closure, “people coming in to say goodbye and talk about memories from the past.”
In 2022 there’s nary a supermarket or butcher or price club that doesn’t sell roast chickens — not to mention that GrubHub will bring one directly to your door. But in 1950, when Allen’s father, Joseph, opened his little store on Grace Avenue, having someone else cook your bird was a novelty.
The offerings at Poultry Mart have changed very little since then: Roast chicken spinning in the ancient rotisseries; fried chicken, barbecued chicken and fried chicken livers gracing the trays behind the counter along with gargantuan baked sweet potatoes, kasha varnishkes (buckwheat with farfalle), knishes, kugel, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, coleslaw, chopped liver, carrot-raisin salad and much more.
In 1960, the shop moved to 31 Middleneck Rd. This is the store Allen grew up in: One of his earliest memories is putting together “box lunches” for the local elementary school consisting of a piece of chicken, a serving of coleslaw and an apple. In 1973, Poultry Mart moved to its present location, the slightly larger premises at 33 Middleneck.
Neither he nor his two brothers were interested in the business but, after a stint in Israel working on a kibbutz in 1974, Allen took a job as a counterman. In 1984, Joseph took a step back from the business and Allen took over his father’s partnership with Joe Rogolia. Joseph died in 1987 and, since Rogolia retired in 1994, Allen has been sole owner.
He said that for six decades, Poultry Mart had lines out the door, but things began to slow in the 2010s as Great Neck’s demographics began to change: Old customers moved away (or passed away); many of the village’s new residents were kosher and Poultry Mart was not; competition — not just from other chicken purveyors but from every new restaurant — was fierce.
“We tried to reinvent ourselves,” he recalled, “we installed a salad bar, we started making sandwiches, grilled cutlets, but it was never enough.”