It is a nostalgic New York scene that is fading: Thousands of matzos a day rolling out of two ovens, shipped across America from a bakery started a century ago by a Jewish immigrant.
- Streit's shutting down its iconic Lower East Side matzo factory
- U.S. oldest matza factory to shut down ovens for a high-tech future
"The Streit's matzo factory is on the market for $25 million, but we're doing this with a heavy heart," said Aaron Gross, the great-great-grandson of founder Aron Streit, an Austrian immigrant. "We're America's last family owned matzo factory."
Aron Streit started the business in 1916 on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and has expanded it over the years. Customers of the historic bakery include some of New York's famed delis, including Katz's, Carnegie Deli and the Second Avenue Deli, which also recently relocated from the neighborhood.
The Madison Avenue real estate agent handling the 47,000-square-foot (4,366-squae-meter) property, Massey Knakal, expects a developer to convert it into pricey residential or commercial space. It is a change that mirrors what is happening in the neighborhood, once populated by generations of Jews whose struggles and successes are the fabric of the American Dream.
With the city's real estate prices soaring, the area is quickly developing into a trendy mix of condos, boutiques and overpriced restaurants and bars - and drawing hipsters with the money to afford the real estate.
Michael DeCheser, the sales agent for the building, said buyers are coming out of the woodwork. "It's a testament to the super white-hot Lower East Side market," he said.
The red brick factory will keep producing the unleavened flatbread, even while potential buyers walk through, until the family builds a new factory in about a year - probably in New Jersey.
"We haven't found a place yet, but we want to stay close to our base in New York City," said Gross, adding that Streit's already has warehouses in New Jersey from which the matzo is shipped.
The 32-year-old matzo heir said it is just too difficult to keep manufacturing in New York City. Streets are too congested for the company's tractor-trailers, and he gets regular noise complaints thanks to the loud machines and two 72-foot (22-meter)-long steel ovens that churn out the matzo. The company makes about 16,000 pounds (7,260 kilograms) of matzos a day, with each sheet weighing about one pound (450 grams).
The activity in the factory has not changed much since a photograph from a half century ago that shows a group of rabbis in white coats supervising production to make sure it is kosher.
About a half dozen rabbis still visit the factory, where many of the 60 employees have been working for decades.
And then, there is the star of the operation: the matzo dough.
It weaves its way through the factory - mixed by a machine and fed into a series of rollers and cutters until it hits the ovens, and then ends up in baskets where the matzo sheets cools before packing.
"What makes us special is the attention that we give to the matzo," said Gross. The business is family owned, and when a customer calls, they usually speak to a family member.
Customers can still walk up and purchase matzo, but the retail business has slowed since the 1960s.
With the rejuvenation of the neighborhood, a different type of person is living there - "it's not an ethnic Jewish neighborhood anymore and the need to be here isn't what it was," Gross said.
"Although 150 Rivington St. is a major part of Jewish American history and we would love to stay," he concluded, "it has gotten to the point were it has become too inefficient to manufacture matzo in an antiquated building on six floors in the middle of one of the hottest neighborhoods in New York City for national distribution."
Gross and two of his cousins will keep running their family business, whose tens of millions of dollars in annual sales represent about 40 percent of the U.S. matzo market.
Streit's competes with Manischewitz Matzo, which owns two other brands, Goodman's and Horowitz.