The Bread of Affliction

By Erica Fisher

Stepping into Streit’s Matzos, a matzo and kosher foods factory in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is almost like stepping back in time. The monochromatic, multi-story factory is a combination of four old tenement buildings complete with large freight elevators and an assembly line production.

Here, matzo dough is mixed, molded, flattened and baked at 800 degrees in two 80 foot long convection ovens before it is boxed and packaged. This baking process, which is supervised by men in white uniforms and brimmed hats that read Streit’s Matzos in bold red letters, uses much of the same equipment that Aron Streit used when he opened the factory in 1925.

“Its an inefficient operation,” said Alan Adler, Aron Streit’s great-grandson and co-owner of the family owned and operated factory. “But we’ve been doing it this way since 1925 and we’ll probably be doing it for the next 5-10 years,” he said.

Streit’s, which is located on 152 Rivington Street has no loading dock or forklift and it takes three guys to unload shipments of flour and other ingredients.

However, with Passover quickly approaching next week, Streit’s optimizes its archaic operation. The factory operates 12-14 hours a day, baking 2000 pounds of matzo every hour.

Passover, an eight-day festival, commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Ancient Egypt. Today during Passover, Jewish people eat matzo–flat, unleavened bread–to honor their ancestors who had no time for bread to rise as they escaped Egypt.

Adler estimates that Passover brings in 60-70 percent of the company’s annual profits.

“It used to be more, but daily [non-passover] business has been picking up,” said Adler, who enjoys the taste of fresh, hot matzo, which is often called ‘the bread of affliction.’

“A lot of people like matzo,”he said.

In recent years, Adler says Streit’s has developed a strong non-Jewish clientele as well as a health conscious following. Aside from matzo, Streit’s makes 200 kosher food products such as potato pancake and soup mix and other crossover items that Alder says, “non-Jews like.”

Streit’s has not done any official market research, but based on email responses, Alder estimates that 10-15 percent of the company’s customers are not Jewish.

On Passover, the matzo is made strictly from flour and water, but during the rest of the year Streit adds other ingredient including garlic, basil, sun-dried tomato, canola oil, apple cider, and whole-wheat flour. According to Weight Watchers, a piece of whole-wheat matzo is only one point.

“Matzo is competitive with other bread products,” said Adler. “It’s cheaper than bread and it lasts a while longer.” According to Alder, Matzo has a shelf life of 2-3 years.

Alder said these factors have made his business relatively recession proof, but the privately held company’s financial data are not public.

“We sell everything we make and profits are good,” said Adler. “The only people we share our profits with are the IRS and our accountant.”

Today, Streit’s is owned by three cousins and they have no intention of going public, said Adler. But—they are looking into moving to a modern factory where production would be linear and more efficient.

“A lot of pride and emotion goes into making our matzo,” said Adler. “Were very hesitant to give up our family history and move to a modern factory.”

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