By Jessica Lam
Immediately, the smell being freshly made matzo hits you as you walk into this small and warm factory located on 148-154 Rivington Street in the Lower East Side since 1925. Streit’s Matzo is a family-owned factory based in New York City. They are one of the first companies to develop a machine to make matzo, or unleavened bread. The company stays steady while facing competitors. Their best method of getting ahead, though, may be no method at all. In fact, many aspects of the company have remained untouched since it first opened.
For the company that has been selling matzo almost 90 years, there is the same basic ingredients and method. Alan Adler, the great grandson of Aron Streits who started the business, now works at the company both owning and overseeing aspects of the business. He is proud of the fact Streit’s sells more matzo in this city than any of their local or international competitors. Streit’s matzo has a history to it, or marketing value to it.
Adler, himself, remembers running around the factory as a kid. And matzo? “I grew up on it. I like the flavor,” Adler says. These two factors are what keep this family-owned business to stay in the family. Their workers only add to this family as they introduce family members of their own to the Streit’s like Adler and his ancestors have.
This working family’s day starts with a truckload of flour. The flour is brought from the basement up to the 1st and 2nd floors where they will be used to make the dough. Water is also stored in the basement where it sits overnight in holding tanks. The water becomes still, just as Steit’s rabbis want for Passover. The flour and water are then mixed on a separate floor in clean tanks and with a rabbi to oversee the procedure and make sure it is kosher. They are mixed, and then, turned over and over in a separate room to squash any air bubbles. The oven is stored in the basement where the matzo will be cooked; the flour and water cook to form a dense smell of crisp bread and crackers.
As the crackers come out, they are set on the rack to dry and when finished drying, they are tasted and wrapped. Much of this is done in an assembly line fashion. A bulk of the work is done by machine, but there is still a lot of labor needed in this business
While many of the matzo is made in this same procedure, there are tons of variation of matzo and matzo dishes, including whole-grain matzo, matzo balls, and Adler’s favorite, butter with salt matzo. The matzo made also needs to be tasted. “No two are alike,” Adler insists. He explained that matzo coming out of certain burners might also darken the matzo more than other burners.
Streit’s Matzo gets much attention from being a historical brand that many Jewish children in NYC and elsewhere grow up on, but that is not enough. There are plenty of potential buyers in the Lower East Side, ranging from the “beautiful twenty-somethings” to hipster crowd to actors and actresses. They also now sell some matzo products either on their site or on Amazon. “We hope to make it trendy,” Adler remarks.