The renowned bakers of Streit’s Matzo, a famous brand of unleavened bread used during Passover, have announced that they will be selling their converted factory on Rivington Street in New York City’s Lower East Side after 90 years of production on that very spot. The new factory will be built somewhere in New Jersey, but the proprietors will still be using New York City water in their recipe. According to an interview with the Guardian, the owners, all of whom are descendants of founder Aron Streit, will try to keep as much of the traditional process as possible.
In recent years, the Streit’s machines have worn down. Both ovens used to produce 1,000 pounds of matzo every hour; now they don’t exceed 1,650 pounds combined. It’s been many decades since spare parts for either oven were readily available, and when something breaks the entire factory has to shut down while engineers remake an old piece by hand. The ovens cannot be fixed; they also cannot be replaced. Even the smallest new industrial ovens are nearly quadruple the size of the machines at Streit’s, and wouldn’t fit in their buildings….Gross, Yagoda and Adler plan to retain as much of the old production process as possible when they move into a new factory after Passover this year . They want to keep using New York water and convection ovens. But no matter what, the current system resembles that of 1925 more than it ever could the process that will replace it.
Filmmaker Michael Levine, who created the documentary Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream, talked with the Bowery Boogie about Streit’s decision to move.
I personally know that this was an agonizing decision for the Streit family, who despite their many challenges, were determined to keep the factory and its workers employed onsite, even as the phone rang daily with offers from developers clamoring to purchase the valuable real estate. I watched as they turned down offer after offer, until the challenges of maintaining a manufacturing business in a drastically changing Lower East Side, as well as the pressures of increased foreign competition, left the company no alternative but to accept. The loss is, of course, especially painful for the Streit’s workers, many of whom have devoted 30 or more years of their lives to working here, and for whom, like the millions before them who came to the Lower East Side, found opportunity for themselves and their families in that work. For the Lower East Side community at large, it is one more in a too long and accelerating line of losses of historic neighborhood institutions and family businesses, forced out against their will in the face of unmitigated hyper-gentrification, which insidiously erodes and threatens to eradicate the social and economic diversity and energy of this neighborhood which have always been its greatest strength, and leaves family businesses such as Streit’s behind. For the Jewish community nationwide and for the descendants of immigrants of all backgrounds whose families passed through neighborhood over the course of the last century or who remain here, it is the loss of a connection to a Lower East Side that is ever more the domain of museums and memory than of daily life.
image via Streits Matzos
GIFs via The Guardian