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Spotlight Business: Rosenwach Tank (Long Island City)

In the ever-changing city of New York it can be challenging to find a business that has survived half a century, never mind 148 years, but Rosenwach Tank has done just that. “If we went out of business the city would go dry,” says Henry Rosenwach, 25, who is the 5th generation of his family to work at the company and who will one day inherent the iconic company from his father, Andrew, 60.

For a century and a half Rosenwach Tank has manufactured, installed and maintained water towers for New York City’s buildings, leaving their distinctive mark on the signature skyline.

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  • Rosenwach Tanks
  • Rosenwach Tanks
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  • Rosenwach Tanks

When residents of high-rises turn on their taps to drink a glass of water or shower, the water comes from a gigantic tank perched high on the roof of the building. The tank not only functions as storage but also creates the pressure through gravity needed to bring water to the individual units.

The company estimates they have built and installed over half of the city’s water tanks. Under their umbrella group Rosenwach Group, they now mange six companies, including Rosenwach Tank, which do everything from manufacturing evaporative cooling towers to restoring buildings and manufacturing outdoor furniture.

A secret to the company’s incredible longevity under the Rosenwach family is creating and nurturing a solid support team who will grow with them. “You need the greatest circle around you. I know I can’t do it unless I have the right people,” says Andrew. “You want to bring people around you who have good consciousness and a good sense of right and wrong and can make honest decisions and look out for other people.”

At Rosenwach Tank everyone starts out at the bottom and works their way up which cultivates a culture of mutual respect says Henry. “Everyone starts out on a truck [as a delivery person]. It’s grueling. I didn’t want to move the next day. It’s tough work,” says Henry. New workers are paired with more experienced ones who can show them the ropes in an informal apprenticeship program.

Kenny, a seasoned-worker over 50, has been a respected part of the team as long as Andrew has. “Kenny gave me faith” says Andrew. “He has wonderful knowledge and he’s honest. We’re very lucky to work with him.”

Trusted employees are so valued at the water tank manufacturer that they find ways to adapt roles to keep their aging workforce. “If someone was coming up in age we would put them in a different role. Maybe as an inspector,” says Henry. “We wouldn’t just throw someone away who can’t do the manual part of it… Rosenwach is tradition. The company has lasted so long, it’s only right to keep men who literally put their bodies on the line,” he says. “If you start from scratch it’s sort of redundant.”

Andrew says that older workers may have valuable knowledge but that they may also be set in their ways and less flexible. He says it’s most important to surround yourself with good people, regardless of age. “The talent is there. We have to thrive from the talent.”
The company has been doing well. Henry says they are extremely busy and constantly trying to think of ways to improve the technology and grow the business. They enhanced cool water technology and launched a line of clothing and products that say “We Tank NY.” They use the tagline “Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Italy has the Leaning Tower. New York has Rosenwach water towers.” They are eyeing a move to Somerset, New Jersey where all branches of the business would be efficiently under one roof.

“We’re constantly saying we’ll see what we can do for the next level. We’re very hands on,” says Andrew.

Henry wasn’t always certain he wanted to join the family business. “I never thought about it until I entered the business and realized how important a part of New York City it is,” he says. “As time keeps going on the more I invest myself in it. The more I find myself wanting to do it.”

While Andrew will likely lead the company for a long time – “He’ll die in his chair,” jokes Henry – he’s enjoying learning all facets of the business from his father.

“He has a vision,” says Henry. “He’s 10 steps ahead of the game. He’s 100% devoted to the company. The goal is to make him proud.”

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Spotlight Business: Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market (West Village)

“I don’t buy my meat anywhere but here,” declares Rayanne, a long-time loyal customer of Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market who enters the over 60 year-old neighborhood butcher shop with her daughter. “I’ve been coming here forever. I started as a little girl with my Mom.”
Two years ago her mother passed away and Rayanne lost not only her mother but the collection of beloved family recipes that were never recorded.

“I lost her recipes,” she wistfully recalls. “But Frank gives me his recipes.”
Frank Ottomanelli, 70, owner of the classic West Village meat market along with his two brothers Joe and Gerry, makes a point of reading the New York Times cooking section frequently, collecting recipes and cooking tips to pass along to his customers.

Frank, shrugs off the praise. “I like to cook, and Rayanne needs help,” he says.
This passion and dedication to their customers is what sets the 4th generation family-owned business apart from its competitors and results in generations of family members patronizing the shop, which specializes in exotic meats like alligator and bison in addition to the standard fare.

“I take care of them,” says Joe, 58. “Their children come in here and become customers.”
“I’m a second generation customer,” offers a girl in hers 20s. She’s been frequenting Ottomanelli and Sons for years and says she appreciates the neighborhood feel along with the butchers’ “superior” knowledge and products.

The relationships that they have built and cultivated over time – through generously sharing their detailed meat expertise and more personal chats about relatives and New York Giants games – help the business maintain consistency financially as costs rise throughout the West Village and other long-time shops close their doors. Along with their retail store they also have a wholesale division.

“We’re a one-on-one butcher,” Frank says as many regulars mill around the store placing their orders for holiday turkeys and steaks for dinner. “We’ve been to our customers’ weddings and funerals. We get attached.”

Despite the 13 hour days which start at 4a.m., the brothers say they haven’t made any adjustments as they’ve aged.

“Your body gets used to it,” says Joe. “It gets immune. You just keep trying, that’s it.”
“What keeps me going is lots of red meat and red wine,” says Frank. “And you drink a lot of coffee,” he says while holding up a cup as evidence. It helps tremendously that the brothers share the burden and all have specific roles says Frank, who handles the fresh hanging meats which include veal, beef, lamb and pork. “We divide responsibilities.”
Like any family they have their share of issues, but working together has been worth it and essential to the survival of the shop.

“We work with knives, but we don’t kill each other,” says Frank. “We have our ups and downs. The bottom line is we’re family. We come in together, we go home together.”
Frank’s father taught him the trade and he and his brothers worked their way up from bicycle delivery boys to butchers. When the time came, he also trained his son, Mathew who is the 4th generation to work at the shop.

As much as he’d love him to keep the family business going, Frank is not sure if Matthew would – or could – take it over eventually. “I don’t know. I would like to think so. Where would I get my meat? I’d help. He’s my son,” he says. “But he’s only 1 person.”
They have some time to decide; Frank does not plan on retiring any time soon. “What would I do?” he says. “It’s been in our blood for generations.”

“It’s the customers that keep us going” says Joe. “There’s humanity to it. People can buy meat at the supermarket but it’s not the same.”

“We’re loyal to our customers, and the customers are loyal to us,” says Frank.