The New Otto’s: Owners Maintain An Icon And Make It Better
By Jamie Larson
It’s hard to imagine Germantown, New York, without Otto’s Market. Though Otto Leuschel ran the former Central Market location (originally opened 1927) for just eight years, in that time the market became the catalyst for the small town center’s recent revival. So when Otto announced he would be selling the place and going back to life as a VP at Whole Foods, there was a concern that Germantown’s life support was about to be pulled.
Thankfully, in their first year since taking over, new owners Noah Bernamoff and Dana Martin and their wives, Rea and Tracy respectively, have kept the community spirit of Otto’s and the Central Market alive. And while the continuity is genuinely heart warming they’ve also added a multitude of great new offerings we are really excited about.
Dana and Tracy Martin, and Rae and Noah Bernamoff
“It was important for Otto and for us as well to be stewards of this place and the connection it has with the community,” said Bernamoff, who added that while Leuschel ran his market with the intuition and instinct afforded by a lifetime in the grocery business, they knew they really needed to do their research and crunch the numbers before making any changes. “Otto’s was the continuation of the Central Market and now we recognize that we are carrying the torch.”
When Martin, who has a day job in finance and Bernamoff, a restaurateur, took the reins on July 1, 2017, they knew the community needed Otto’s open, so they never closed the doors and ran the market exactly how it was left to them for months. During that time they talked with customers about what new elements they might want and what they absolutely couldn’t do without. The thing they knew had to stay was the loyal staff, who they say are as much a part of Otto’s as the building or the name.
Three months ago they began serious renovations, which took an astonishingly short seven weeks. No one would have blamed them for taking the time off but the new owners and the old staff went above and beyond to open a mini Otto’s “pop-up” in The Central House Inn across the street. The amount of effort and labor put into continuing service in this way proved their commitment to a lot of folks.
“Continuity was important to us,” Martin said. “And the time running Otto’s in its old form gave us a chance to understand what was important to people. The pop-up was a lot of work and stress but the Central House was a great host and the customers were behind us.”
The handsome remodel moved the deli front and center, expanded the kitchen, created new dining space and, though it may look smaller, reconfigured the grocery section so they’re selling just as much as Otto’s did before. There’s more fresh produce, a larger freezer and new sections. Though a lot has changed, Martin and Bernamoff did an excellent job of blending old and new. While the new look reflects a slightly more modern sensibility, it doesn’t overshadow the beautiful original floors or the old brick walls.
The most exciting change though, has to be the updated menu. Otto’s always had a busy, top-quality deli but now it’s the expanded focus of the establishment. Bernamoff ran a Jewish deli and now a bagel shop, and has brought his knowledge to the kitchen. The smoker is really making some magic, including lox and seriously perfect brisket.
The case below the counter is filled with prepared deli salads and veggies that constantly rotate and feature seasonal items from nearby farms. Rotisserie chickens slowly spin and beckon to you from the end of the counter. The whole meat program at Otto’s has been remodeled and emphasized with a beautiful display of cuts and fresh fish, all broken down skillfully before you by the very personable chef Bobby Hellen.
“We were really interested in establishing a food service program we could do 12 moths a year with local products,” Bernamoff said.
There is also a new well-sourced selection of breads, including bagels from Bernamoff’s Blackseed Bagel Co. And while Otto’s always had nice pour-over coffee, the new team has introduced a full coffee service.
Though Martin and Bernamoff are back and forth to the city for work, you’re likely to find them behind the counters or manning the new smoker all weekend. Their wives are up full time. They joke that Tracy Martin is the new Otto, in the store all week managing operations and schmoozing.
There are so many little components of the store that the team has spent the extra effort on, in order to do them just right. For example, the reason there’s still a bar table in the window? There was a group of regulars at the old Otto’s who came in almost every morning to have coffee and Bernamoff and Martin didn’t want them to lose their morning spot.
The thing that makes a community hub like Otto’s great and lasting is not just the personality of the place, it’s this type of hard work and attention to detail that results in customers coming to depend on it and identify with it. Otto Leuschel recaptured the legacy of the Central Market at a time when the town really needed it. Judging by their strong first year, the couples behind the new Otto’s Market aren’t just maintaining a Germantown icon, they are, dare we say, making it better than ever.
215 Main St., Germantown, NY
Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.