This one-story building with no residential units is listed as having been built in 1931. It has an alternate address of 69-90 75th Street.
NOTE: “The Villager” newsletter published by the Middle Village Property Owners/Residents Assn., Inc. Volume 3, Issue 12, February 2002 contained this wonderful article – which Doug Leblang graciously provided, for us to enjoy.
As far as I’m concerned, it provides a better and more complete description
than I could write.
ON THE PERCH OF RETIRING by: Madeline Ward
Conrad Spizz is retired – or so he says. But the man who started the Rego Smoked Fish Company on 75th Street in Middle Village in 1949 is still at his desk seven days a week.
“I’m not smoking fish any longer.” he says. “Since January I’ve leased the operation to Marshall Smoked Fish Company. I’ll be corning in every day. There’s a lot of paperwork to take care of.”
Connie, as he likes to be called, still has a small retail business in Middle Village and also supplies such clients as Zabars and other well-known concerns.
How did he become involved in the smoked-fish business? “It’s a long story,” he says, recalling the early days.
Born in 1916 in Manchester, England. his Russian-born father and English mother emigrated with the family in 1925. When he was 14 he got his first job with the Banner Smokehouse in Brooklyn’s Brownsville. He was assigned to the trucks that delivered smoked fish “to almost every appetizing shop in the City,” he says. “We’d have as many as 50 or 60 such shops an our route.”
And, of course, through his experience, he made a lot of connections. He became acquainted with some of the biggest people in the smoked-fish industry.
When he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army in 1946, he and a partner went into business in an Atlantic City smokehouse. He smoked fish, corned beef, pickled pickles and then delivered to Philadelphia and the Catskills. “Alas” he sighs, “the business failed. My partner was not an honest man. ”
Learning from that sad experience, Connie looked for another opportunity. In 1949 he heard that a building on 75th Street was available. He and his brothers Ruby and Jack (now deceased) each invested $666.63 to start their business in Middle Village.
Every day, before dawn, Connie or his brothers were at the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan, then back to the wet room where the fish was cleaned and placed into brine, then into the life-sized brick ovens where the fish was smoked and finally to the trucks and the warehouses.
And every Wednesday. after a day’s work. Connie would load a truck and deliver his smoked products to the hotels in the Catskills. “It was hard work” says Connie. “But we made a living.”
Over time, things changed. In one instance, some smoked chubs prepared in Michigan found their way to Tennessee, where they were not refrigerated. A customer ate the chubs some 20 or 30 days later and became violently ill. The Food and Drug Administration became involved and ordered the destruction of all the whitefish on hand. Connie notes that if it had been sold at REGO, there wouldn’t have been any problem. He would have told them to refrigerate. The FDA keeps a wary eye on the business. It insists on heavy salting to discourage bacteria and extremely high temperatures during smoking.
When it comes to eating lox. Connie prefers it SALTY! None of this new, less salty salmon for him. He acquired a taste for the traditional lox in his early days and, thank you, he’ll keep it that way.
In its day, REGO did a tremendously large business. Ledgers from 1950 show a weekly output of some 7,500 pounds of chub and 7.000 pounds of sable. On a yearly basis there were 70 casks of salmon at 800 pounds each and 100,.000 pounds of whitefish. As the population changed and Jewish families relocated, sales started to decrease. But, longtime customers, no matter where, always came back for the “goodies,” especially around the holidays.
Now 86 years old. Connie still finds time to be at his desk in what was once the Rego Smoked-Fish Company. Has he really retired? Well maybe he just has a little more time to enjoy the opera (he has subscriptions to the Metropolitan Opera), more time to enjoy the works of James Joyce (he keeps volumes in his office) and more time to enjoy his family. Connie suffered a slight stroke in 1993 but that hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm and his determined spirit. He likes butter with his lox, has some Chivas Regal or Remy Martin every day, and he likes to work. And. while he no longer is smoking fish. Connie keeps busy. Someday, he might even retire.
Spencer Wulwick – Nov 14, 2002
I simply could not post this article, without making a comment. I seriously doubt that there is a Middle Villager alive today who doesn’t recall – and for some reason or other have fond memories of – The Rego Smoked Fish House.
For me, it was the “special” Sunday morning – when my Uncle (William Gelb – who lived across the street from me on 78th Street) would yell out to me: “Spencer – I’m going to the fish house. Do you want to come with me and have breakfast with us?” I didn’t run often but that question always got my attention and an immediate response. I don’t know what made those events so special, but special they were. At that time, I suppose it was the special treat of smoked fish (which didn’t come very often) and also having “breakfast” with my aunt, uncle and (later) cousins.
I have always loved Smoked fish and still consider it a special treat no matter how often I eat it. When my mother got too old to prepare home-made “surprises” for my birthday, the “surprise” became a platter of fish from the fish house.
When I hosted computer-group and other meetings, (in rather recent years) I simply called the fish-house, ordered the platter and all I had to do – before the meeting – was pick it up. From the guests comments, you would think I had hired the most expensive and unique caterer in the world. I couldn’t have gotten more praise, had I spent two weeks preparing special dishes … all for a phone call and a short drive to the “fish place.”
Now, I live in Tampa and “alas” there is nothing that can compare. There is ONE deli – quite a distance away – that does have a decent selection – but it never seems quite “the same.”
I’m sure that many of you have your own fond recollections of “the fish house” and we look forward to hearing them.
Arnold Estes – Nov 15, 2002
I met Connie in 1947. We were business neighbors on 75th Street and soon became good friends. Every Tuesday evening we had a barbecue at the REGO. We had steaks and booze. We would finish A LITRE of Johnny Walker Black and then some. There were generally 6 or 7 men there. One of the men was a son-in-law of Russ and daughters Max Pulvis. What wonderful memories that brings back.
I also helped at the cash register on the week before Yom Kippur. You should have seen the lines of woman. They waited on line for hours. Every now and then some woman would try and sneak in. The women there always stopped them short.
Connie loved going to the theater. My neighbor and good friend was President of the Shubert Organization. I suppied Connie with passes for shows and he supplied my friend with fish. Good arrangement.
I still see Connie and could not imagine him not going to the REGO every day. He can hardly walk and that forced him into retirement.