From Mark Russ Federman’s Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built:
“Older customers who came from Eastern Europe told me that the traditional Yom Kippur break-fast used to be nothing more than a piece of schmaltz herring and shot of schnapps. The herring quickly put some salt into the fasting body, and the schnapps was for … everything else. Pulling a herring or two or three from the barrel — the cost was three for a quarter in the early 1920s — and wrapping it in a Yiddish newspaper didn’t take very long.
“I have to admit it, our customers are a creative bunch. Especially when it comes to devising excuses for jumping the line during the holidays. … My mother just died. It was true, but what does that have to do with buying herring? I have a patient waiting on the operating table. A favorite of many doctors past and present. Nice try, but it doesn’t work.
“At some point when I wasn’t looking, Christmas and New Year’s became Jewish holidays. The same number of customers coming in, the same amount of fish going out. I guess I had my head down, slicing and filleting, when it turned out that you don’t have to be Jewish to love our food. … And just for Christmas and New Year’s we have an express line: the caviar express line. … Those who want smoked fish, herring, bagels, or all of the above must, as always, take a number and wait. … I watched him wait on a rather distinguished-looking gentleman who asked for several hundred dollars’ worth of osetra caviar. … The caviar was brought out and packed on ice, and then I heard the gentleman ask Christopher, almost in a whisper, if it would be possible for him to also buy six plain bagels. Christopher, knowing full well that the caviar express line was only for caviar sales, looked over to me to see if I would grant his customer some papal in-law dispensation. I did. The customer was extremely pleased and thankful. Then, as he turned to leave, he said, ‘I only bought the caviar so that I wouldn’t have to take a number and wait on line for the bagels.'”