After nearly a century in New York’s Lower East Side, Streit’s matzo factory plans to relocate this summer. The family-run business that holds almost 40 percent of the domestic matzo market is confident it’s a good business move and will allow the business to survive for generations to come.
“Just being part of the neighborhood is amazing, and it’s fun, and it gives a little bit of a different feel to our plant. And it’s something I’ll miss emotionally. But, business wise, it’s just not the right way to do it,” says Aaron Gross, a fifth generation family member in the business. Gross and two cousins run the day-to-day operations at Streit’s.
Gross runs the day to say operations of Streit’s along with two cousins.
Inside the Streit’s factory, you’re almost instantly struck — in both senses of the word — by baskets of matzo flying through the air as they move from the oven to the packing floor.
“We have two ovens on multiple floors,” says Gross. “We bring the flour in the basement, we blow it up to the fifth floor, it goes down to the fourth and second floor to the mixing rooms, where it goes down to the third and first floor for the ovens. And then everything meets on the second floor to get packed. And then everything goes down the elevator to the shipping room to get shipped over to our warehouse.”
Matzo dough before it enters the oven.
Streit’s has been been cranking out 1800 pounds of the crispy cracker per hour in its Manhattan factory for 90 years. The plant was state of the art back in the 20’s and 30’s. But Gross says manufacturing in an antiquated factory is like trying to “fight with one hand tied behind your back.”
“We know how to work in four tenement buildings. We know how to load on the street. We know how to do all this stuff. But, the fact that our competitors don’t have to do it, puts us at…a disadvantage,” he says.
Sales of Streit’s unleavened bread have been anything but flat. The company earns over $20 million annually. Rabbi Mayer Kirshner is the head supervising Rabbi at Streit’s. He makes sure Streit’s production meets strict kosher standards. Even though it’s an emotional decision, he knows it’s time to move on.
“We should have been out of this factory years ago, “ he says.
Rabbi Mayer Kirshner, supervising the matzo dough before it goes into the oven.
In the new factory, Aaron Gross says they will be able to make about 3000 pounds of matzo an hour, almost double what they do now. And, they stand to make some money. Seven years ago, they nearly sold the property for $25 million.
What would Streit’s founder, Aaron Gross’s great-great-grandfather Aron Streit, say about the move?
“I think Aron Streit would be proud of us for making this decision, and he would realize that it’s necessary,” says Gross. “There’s no need for us to be here and to put us at a competitive disadvantage. He’d be the first to move, I believe. He was very smart businessman.”
The new location has not been revealed yet, but it will likely be in New York or New Jersey. The authenticity that comes from being an anchor of the Jewish Lower East Side is something Gross hopes to keep. “The Lower East Side will always be in our DNA,” he says.
One worry about the move? Finding good New York City water, the not-so-secret ingredient that some say makes the matzo so superb.
Matzo on cooling racks in the Streit’s factory.
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