Alan Adler: A Workingman’s Day

By Meredith Sharpe

Alan Adler is a hardworking man. The lines in his face suggest years of early mornings and hours of bookkeeping. At 9 A.M., he is dressed in jeans, workman’s boots and a denim shirt, ready for a full day. He jokes with employees, speaks with pride of the factory where he has worked since his youth, and hopes his children will enter into professions that they are successful at, whatever they may be. This typical American worker is also worth $25,000,000.

 Adler is the great-grandson of Aron Streit, an Austrian immigrant who founded Streit’s, the now-legendary Lower East Side matzo factory. Due to skyrocketing real estate prices and the increasing trendiness of the neighborhood, the land the factory stands on was estimated at $25,000,000 in 2007. Adler, whose appearance does not betray years of education in both business and law, still refuses to sell. He openly acknowledges his factory’s inefficiencies, from the complicated floor-to-floor web of production inside to even the truck outside, filled with flour for an early morning batch of matzo. Much of the flour is spilled on the ground in the process. Streit’s is one of the few factories that still uses convection ovens, outdated machines which produce a 700 to 800 degree baking temperature and which are responsible for the irreplaceable taste of the company’s matzo. Energy costs are in the “tens of thousands” every month, while workers are required to report to their posts at 6 A.M. every morning in order to maintain production.

“People like the fact that there is a history to it,” Adler says by way of explanation. The family has maintained location not out of nostalgia, he claims, but as a marketing tool. The factory has seen vast changes in the Lower East Side as the neighborhood shifted from a haven for immigrants to poverty-stricken gang zone to gentrified center for hip culture. “We hope to make it trendy,” Adler jokes, “by having the store open on Sundays when everybody’s down here for their unlimited mimosa brunches, and then bringing them in.” He insists that the family is only waiting for the land upon which the factory stands to rise in price. Supplemented by a “5 year plan,” they wait indefinitely with hopes of moving the enterprise to a more efficient location in New Jersey. For Adler, the promise of a move and a more streamlined factory promise an eventual break from the work that has encompassed his life since he was a child. But for New Yorkers, the loss of Streit’s would mean the loss of a monument to earlier times when marketing was not the workingman’s primary focus and when a business, land and all, truly remained in the family.
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