By Kyle Cheromcha
Three weeks before the Jewish holiday of Passover, and the two eighty foot long convection ovens in Streit’s matzo factory were already churning out 16,000 pounds of the crispy flatbread per day.
That number will almost double as Passover approaches, according to co-owner Alan Adler. If that seems like a lot, consider this: Streit’s, the only family-owned and operated matzo company in the country, produces about forty percent of America’s matzo. And it’s all made in their historic Lower East Side factory, using much of the same equipment as Aron Streit did when he opened the factory in 1925.
“Passover accounts for about 60 percent of our [annual] business,” said co-owner David Adler. “People are used to seeing the pink Streit’s box on their table.”
Matzo is made from just flour and water, similar to a large cracker. Traditionally, Jews eat it at Passover to remind themselves of the struggles of the ancient Israelites, who didn’t have time for their bread to rise as they fled from slavery in Egypt and were forced to improvise.
But according to Adler, matzo has seen a rise in popularity among Jews and non-Jews alike throughout the year. It’s cheaper than bread, relatively healthy, and can last up to two years on a shelf. Matzo is also a pretty safe business to be in – not only is Streit’s doing well in this recession, Adler said, but it also survived the Great Depression.
The factory, a cluster of four old tenement buildings, has a rabbi on site to ensure the operation follows kosher rules. The matzo is timed at eighteen minutes exactlyAdler, who quit his job as a lawyer for the state to help run Streit’s, emphasized the personal attachment he feels towards the factory and the family business. After his uncle Jack Streit, who had been in charge of the company, died in 1998, the family made a unanimous decision to stay in the matzo business.
“It’s funny though, because Aron wanted his sons to be more than matzo makers,” he said. “But this is more than just a job to me. I played in these halls as a kid.”
Looking much like it did over eighty years ago, Streit’s factory is one of the last vestiges of the large Jewish community that used to define the Lower East Side. There are plans to move to a modern, more efficient factory in the next five years, but Adler said he is reluctant to give up such a large part of his family’s history.
“People used to line up around the block for hot matzo, but the neighborhood is changing,” he said. “Chinatown might be expanding, but we are still here, and the family wants to keep making Matzo.”