If you’re looking for a butcher in College Point, Empire Market has to make the cut.
Located at 14-26 College Point Blvd. at 14th Street, Empire Market was started in 1921 by the Lepine family.
“My grandfather started to work for these two German guys, and then he took over,” said John Lepine, who is in the third generation of family members working in the store. “After that, my father took over, and then my brother and I took over.”
Empire Market has had five generations of the Lepine family working in the store. Even though the baton has been passed, John’s father, Mike, who is 78 years old, still works in the store every day with his sons.
“Butchers never retire,” Lepine said. “I’ve known butchers who are still working at 95 years old. My brother and I took the reigns to make things easier of our dad, but he still works in the back and makes a lot of the stuff we sell.”
So what’s the secret to keeping the store alive for 95 years? Consistency.
“We don’t make a million products, but the ones we make, we make consistently the same and good,” says Lepine. “If you had a hot dog here 30 years ago, it would still taste the same. As things change over the years, a lot of places change who they are to fit the crowd. But we’ve stayed the same and are lucky enough to have a crowd that comes here.”
Empire Market has a wide selection of meats and cheeses to choose from that will satisfy even the pickiest customer. If this is your first time going to Empire Market, John recommends the hot dogs and bacon, which has been popularized in print before.
“Time Out New York Magazine has been very good to us since they first started,” Lepine said. “They wrote about our hot dogs and that created some of the best free publicity we’ve ever had.”
Having been around for 95 years, the Lepine family has seen how College Point has transformed throughout the years. College Point used to be a two-fare city, which means you would have to pay for the bus and for the train, making College Point an undesirable place to live in Queens. But everything changed when the MetroCard debuted in the early 1990s.
“The MetroCard came out, and you didn’t have to pay the two fares anymore,” Lepine said. “It just kind of opened us up to the rest of New York. We have everyone now. It’s supposed to be like that; it’s New York City!”
Empire Market is open on Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.