Neighborhood Spot: Bubby’s Founder Ron Silver on 30-Plus Years of Pies and Art in Tribeca

By Grace Cassidy

In the three decades since opening its doors at 120 Hudson Street in Tribeca, Bubby’s has secured its status as a local institution and neighborhood treasure. Beginning as a pop-up pie shop on Thanksgiving Day in 1990, the restaurant has endured not just as a beloved brunch spot, but also as a rare constant in a NYC neighborhood that has seen its share of change.

“In 1990, Tribeca was a very different neighborhood,” the chef and owner, Ron Silver, recalled. “There wasn’t a traffic light. There were a lot of wholesale food vendors, groceries, eggs, dairy—that kind of thing. It was much more off-the-beaten path of Manhattan and used to be very quiet.”

Back then, Silver had no intention of becoming a restauranteur. His focus was on making art.

“I needed a way to make money without changing my art so it could sell,” he explained.

And the way to make money was to make pies.

“Originally, I was using the kitchen in Tribeca to make pies,” Silver said. “It was kind of a mystery thing because the whole neighborhood smelled like pies, but we didn’t have a storefront.”

After he convinced the lease holder to let him use the space to sell pies on Thanksgiving Day, things escalated from there.

“My partner and I decided to make a Thanksgiving meal, and before we knew it, we were running a restaurant,” he said. “The guy with the lease was pissed, but he told us to keep doing what we were doing.”

With its “off-the-commercial-grid” ethos and commitment to locally sourced food long before “farm-to-table” became a marketing cliché, Bubby’s reflected the independent vibe of Tribeca in the ‘90s and became a vital part of the local community.

“I can think of at least five instances where people had their first date at Bubby’s, then they got married and got pregnant, and their kid got their first job at Bubby’s,” Silver said. “For me, that’s a really nice thing. Building community is important to my own ethics.”

In the years that followed, as Tribeca’s signature loft and warehouse spaces transformed into luxury homes in a booming residential real estate market, Bubby’s never stopped serving up its brand of American comfort food. And when the neighborhood weathered moments of historic turbulence, from the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, just blocks away, to the flood waters brought by Superstorm Sandy to the dire early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant was there for the community, feeding first responders and providing a shared space.

“It’s like people’s living room,” Silver said. “Everyone—including celebrities—is treated the same way. People can rely on Bubby’s as a mainstay.”

The same could be said for Silver himself, who has lived in Tribeca for nearly 20 years and went on to open an art studio where he has recommitted himself to painting.

“It took me a minute to remember that I was supposed to be doing art,” he said.

In addition to his art, Silver has branched out into the burgeoning cannabis industry as the founder and culinary innovator of Azuca, a new company that provides “chef-ready ingredients for edibles manufacturers and brands.”

A “lifelong fan of cannabis,” Silver saw an opportunity to use his culinary expertise to develop a more precise and fast-acting cannabinoid product—something that was previously lacking in the edibles market.

The result is Azuca’s TiME INFUSION® process, which enables the company’s partner brands to create gummies, beverages, syrups and chocolates that deliver consistent effects in 5 to 15 minutes. Azuca-infused products are currently available in 18 American states, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Silver also has plans to expand the Bubby’s footprint in the coming years. While additional locations in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood and on the High Line in Chelsea have since closed, the restaurant has recently opened an outpost at New York’s refurbished LaGuardia Airport.

And just as the original location at Hudson and Moore will continue to be a neighborhood mainstay, Silver affirms that pies will remain the cornerstone of the Bubby’s brand. (A reprint of his 2007 cookbook, Bubby’s Homemade Pies, was recently reissued.) After all, he said, pies exemplify all of the values and principles that have sustained Bubby’s all these years, from the handcrafted artisanship to the seasonality of the ingredients to the enduring relationships with local growers and purveyors.

At the end of the day, Silver said, “we sell a lot of pies.”

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