By Amanda Mastrull
For Lower East Side business Streit’s, matzo is more than just the unleavened cracker-like bread synonymous with Passover. Instead, for the only family owned and operated matzo factory in the US, it is a part of their lives.
“There’s more to it than just a job,” co-owner Alan Adler said. “There’s a lot of pride and emotion tied up with making the matzo.”
Streit’s was founded in 1915 by Aaron Streit, an ancestor of Adler. The factory was moved to its current Rivington Street location in 1925. Streit’s still make their matzo in the same way that they have for decades, using two convection ovens that reach nearly 80 feet long. Each oven is capable of producing 1000 pounds of matzo per hour. Still, to keep up with the demand for Passover last year, the factory was running 24 hours.
“We basically sell everything we make,” Adler said, not revealing the privately-owned company’s finances.
The company currently makes over 200 kosher products, including flavored matzo, which they distribute worldwide. The expansion from traditional plain matzo helps to draw in a number of non-Jewish customers who buy it year-round. Adler estimates that 10-15% percent of people fall into this category.
Passover is an especially profitable time of year for the company, with about 60% of revenue coming from Passover matzo sales. Passover matzo is unique in that it faces additional scrutiny to meet religious requirements. It must be baked within 18 minutes of being mixed, so it does not begin to rise. Rabbis follow the matzo throughout the process and over multiple floors in the factory, checking the ingredients and keeping time.
Because of the space limitations, the factory must operate on a number of floors, moving the matzo around for baking and packaging. Along with the excess labor, the old convection ovens are not uniformly heated, which leads to waste. Their current location, which is only 100 feet in length, would not be able to hold the new 200 foot ovens.
“It’s terribly inefficient working in old tenement buildings on the Lower East Side,” Adler said.
Though the family is “very hesitant” to give up the Rivington Street location, Adler admits they are considering a move. Still, he’s adamant that the company would do everything it could to keep their matzo at the same quality level it’s been at for decades. Anything less would be inconceivable.