By Kevin McGovern
The Lower East Side. With it’s beautifully antiquated architecture, decades-old ethnic restaurants, and Synagogue-lined blocks, the Lower East Side reminds one of a past New York. It reminds one not of their parent’s New York, but more likely their grandparent’s New York, one in which immigrants from various corners of the world flocked to the Lower East Side in hope for a new and better tomorrow. And yet, the once-crowded streets of the Lower East Side are now accepting new tenants: young, hip urbanites and tourists. Take a closer look and one will see old-world staples like delicatessen and matzo factories stand side-by-side with trendy bars and boutiques.
Located on Rivington Street, Streit’s is a kosher food company that has been making and selling classic Jewish food, like their renowned matzo, since 1916. Founded by Aron Streit, a Jewish immigrant from Austria, Streit’s has been making its line of kosher products for decades, priding itself as one of the last bastions of family-run Jewish businesses in not only the Lower East Side, but the United States. Now run by Alan Adler and his cousins, all descendants of Aron Streit, Streit’s continues to run at full capacity. Its old, worn ovens, creaky conveyor belts, and flour-covered floors reminds one of the Lower East Side’s rich Jewish-centric history. Its Streit’s dedication to using “the same ingredients since in the bible” to make its matzo, its strict use of rabbis to cleanse machines and overlook to cooking process, and its focus on serving the community that makes it a true treasure. Adler and his family strive to serve their community and fellow Jews, taking pride in the fact that “our matzos are like snowflakes; no two pieces are alike.”
A just a few blocks away on Houston Street resides another artifact of past Jewish-immigrant customs: Katz’s Delicatessen. Founded in 1888 by the Iceland brothers, and transformed by businessman Willy Katz in 1903, Katz’s Deli has served as temple for old-world Jewish deli. Serving about 15 thousand pounds of its famous pastrami and 18 thousand pounds of its corned beef sandwiches weekly, Katz’s has become a symbol of Jewish culture and the Lower East Side. Yet, Jewish institutions like Streit’s and Katz’s know how important they are to Jewish culture, and more importantly the neighborhood. “It’s not just about being in business, it’s about taking care of the neighborhood,” said owner Jake Dell.
Though champions of Jewish-culture and Lower East Side tradition like Streit’s and Katz’s still remain throughout the neighborhood, a gentrification has occurred since the 1980s. Now, the Lower East Side is home to dozens of trendy restaurants and clothing stores, including award-winning bar and boutique The Dressing Room. Opened in 2007 by co-owner Alexandra Adame, The Dressing Room serves as a symbol of the ever-morphing neighborhood. “It’s a different time, and a different place. The neighborhood is definitely not the same old place,” said Adame. Indeed, hip stores like Adame’s have begun to spread like wildfire throughout the Lower East Side, attracting young New Yorkers and tourists alike. It’s this strange blend of old and new New York that sets apart the Lower East Side from most of Manhattan. And yet, is it any surprise that a neighborhood known for its acceptance of outcasts and varied practices is now playing host to a new wave of funky blends of tradition and progressive business?