In a few weeks, the 90-year-old Streit’s matzo factory at 150 Rivington Street will be demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. “It was a really emotional time for me, just because we got so used to being there and had this nostalgia for it,” Aaron Gross, a fifth-generation owner/operation of the Streit family business, said of the decision to sell the building and move 30 miles upstate. “But you know my great-grandfather, he probably would have moved 20 years ago, because he was a more savvy businessman.”
The Streit family’s agonizing choice between staying put while fighting a losing battle with their ancient, mercurial ovens and moving to a more modern, if less “authentic” facility is chronicled in the documentary Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream, which just had its run at Film Forum extended through May 10.
Given Streit’s highly exacting standards for making their matzo—the film features a bustling cadre of rabbis who inspect the process carried out by employees who have spent decades mastering the antiquated machines—it’s incredible that the world’s largest family owned and operated matzo factory was able to survive in the Lower East Side for so long.
Streit’s managed to get three tractor-trailers’ worth of product in and out of the neighborhood every day with no loading zone—when the fickle ovens weren’t singeing the matzo.
“I think they did they best they could, it’s just very upsetting that the circumstances got to that point,” says Michael Levine, the film’s director.
Levine began the project in 2013, and was making the final edits to the movie when the family announced last January that they would sell.
“The film was already off to festivals, I thought I had my story, then we had to go back and re-shoot.”
For the past year Streit’s has operated out of a temporary headquarters in New Jersey; the new factory in Orangeburg, NY is set to begin production by the end of the summer.
All of Streit’s employees were offered jobs in the new facilities. Gross estimated that around 60% of the staff accepted.
“I miss going to the bodega across the street every morning for a cup of coffee and seeing the regular faces over there. I miss the people. I miss the bustle of the city,” Gross says.
Gross said he’s grateful for the attention the documentary (and an art installation on Avenue A) has brought to his family business, but that ultimately his loyalty is to his customers, some of whom have been grumbling about the matzo.
“It’s a transition year, it’s just not the same product,” Gross says. “We’re getting complaint letters and we’re speaking to the customers, apologizing, asking them to just bear with us and give us until September and we’ll make them happy again. Most of them understand.”
As for Cogswell Realty and the $975,000 one-bedroom apartments that will replace his family’s old factory, Gross says, “I wish them well” (Cogswell bought the 50,000 square foot property for $30.5 million).
“Before it was a matzo factory, it was apartments. It’s basically going back to what it originally was.”