The Film

100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and her sister 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman have life stories that hit all the key notes of the Jewish immigrant experience: hard work, humor, romance, and a little tsuris. Hattie and Anne are the two surviving daughters from the famed lox and herring emporium Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side. They are also the stars of THE STURGEON QUEENS.

This documentary – timed to coincide with the store’s centennial in 2014 – traces four generations of Russ family history, from patriarch Joel Russ, who immigrated to the US from Austria-Hungary with little more than the shirt on his back, to Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, Joel’s great grandchildren, now in their 30s, who run the store today. Niki’s father Mark Russ Federman, who ran the store from the 1970s until 2008, adds insights from his years researching Russ family history.

The film also features Herman Vargas, aka “The Artistic Slicer,”  longtime Russ & Daughters employee, now manager, who represents the new wave of immigrants behind the R & D counter.

HATTIE: Prices were ridiculous. Eight cents a quarter for lox.


HATTIE: oh g-d!

2nd Generation Russes


Julie Cohen - Director, Producer & Writer

Julie’s love affair with Russ & Daughters’ pickled herring began in 2007, when she selected the store as one of six subjects in her documentary The Jews of New York, produced for New York PBS.

The founder of BetterThanFiction Productions, Julie has directed and produced ten films and won three New York Emmys, including the 2014 award for Best Arts Program.

Before starting BetterThanFiction, she was a longtime staff producer for NBC News. She graduated from Colgate and holds master’s degrees from Yale Law School and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she is an adjunct professor.

Julie lives in Brooklyn with her husband Paul M. Barrett, senior feature writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and author of four nonfiction books, including Law of the Jungle

“Even before I heard the word ‘feminist’, it made me happy to see this was an enterprise where the daughters counted.”

–Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Supreme Court Justice

Other key personnel on The Sturgeon Queens include:

“It was more like a street brawl than a commercial transaction. My family would reject a piece of fish and say it’s awful. ‘What do you mean it’s awful? You don’t even know a good piece of fish.’ And then the cursing would start.”

–Mark Russ Federman, 3rd Generation Russ, on historic arguments with smokehouse vendors


SQ The narrators

The narrators are six longtime customers – now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s – who sit around a table eating, kibitzing, and reading the script paragraph-by-paragraph, seder style.

“It’s like what my great grandmother would’ve done when she wanted to buy smoked fish.”

–Maggie Gyllenhaal, actress

Upcoming Screenings (more to come)

Previous Screenings


“I tried to master slicing the best I could. When I became boychick the artistic slicer everyone wants Herman to cut their salmon.”

–Herman Vargas,
Manager (and slicer)

NIKI: Through the food, coming here and schmoozing and
eating, people connect with their parents and grandparents.

JOSH:  We’re kind of holding the torch of this business. We really don’t want to be the ones to screw it up.

4th Generation Russes

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Gefilte Fish

gefilte fish shirt 600px

Front: “Does your mother make gefilte fish with sugar?”

Back: “I’ll be there Friday night.”

Price: $20 (includes postage)


Schepping Nachas

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Front: “I’m shepping nachas. Do you know what that means?”

Back: SHEP·ing NACH·us: bursting with pride

Price: $20 (includes postage)