As other landmarks of Manhattan's Lower East Side fall victim to gentrification, the Streit's matzo bakery stands tall, in the same place it has stood since Aron Streit opened it 87 years ago in 1925. Despite the changes in the surrounding area, little has changed within the walls of 150 Rivington Street and there aren't any plans to.
"Most of our equipment is very old," said Alan Adler, great-grandson of Aron Streit and director of operations at Streit's."Most of the modern equipment won't fit in so the baking process and everything else is pretty much as it has been. There has been some modernization, but when you look back at some of the old pictures on our website, you can see for the most part that the operation is still the same."
That familiarity has kept the methods of family and company patriarch, Aron Streit, alive and well decades after his passing. His journey, however, began even before opening the factory on Rivington Street.
"He (Aron Streit) had matzo baking experience from when he was in Austria," Adler said. "From what I hear, he was very smart and entrepreneurial. He saw a need in New York City for a matzo baking factory."
That need led Streit, who immigrated to the United States in the 1890s, to open a bakery to make the traditional Jewish unleavened bread on Pitt Street in 1916. Less than a decade later, Streit moved the factory to its current location.
"We used to make local deliveries in the metropolitan area," Adler said. "The matzo bakery was on the first floor of two buildings, but there used to be apartments above and on both sides of the bakery. Over the years the business expanded and they bought the buildings on both sides and now all four buildings are all matzo factories. It started with one oven downstairs; we now have a second oven on the third floor."
Those improvements mean that the factory can churn out 2,000 pounds of matzo an hour, depending on demand. In recent months, the two 72-foot-long ovens, which can reach temperatures of 900 degrees, have been working overtime to prepare for Passover, the most popular season for the company. Streit's produces millions of pounds of matzo a year, 60 percent of which is for Passover.
Increased production, though, has not changed the way the company goes about making their signature matzo.
"I always remember coming here as a kid," Adler said. "One of the first jobs I did and really enjoyed, was picking matzo when it came out of the oven. We still have people doing that job, it has not been automated."
For Streit's, it all speaks to a guiding principle of the company.
"We compete not on price, but on quality and taste," Adler said.
That principle has helped Streit's to survive where others failed. Today Streit's remains the only family-owned-and-operated matzo company in the United States. The company has 70 full-time employees, and one rabbi who examines the baking process during the year. They bring in an additional 10 employees and five additional rabbis during the busy Passover season.
"Under Jewish law, to make kosher for Passover matzo, the baking process has to be less than 18 minutes," Adler said. "We have it timed so that from the minute the flour and water mix in the mixing room to the time it comes out of the oven at 15 minutes. We are well within the 18-minute guideline."
Focus on Quality
The decades have not come without challenges for Streit's. In fact, the company faces several unique challenges because they are a family business.
"The challenge in a family business is always separating family from business," Adler said. "If you want to be successful you have to focus on the business aspect of the business. You don’t want to ruffle any family feathers, but the focus needs to be on the business. We are fortunate that whenever we have had extended board meetings, where all family members are included, all of the family members have agreed. For the important decision, the family is all of one mind."
Despite running a family business, Adler feels there is a simple way all businesses can succeed.
"Stick to the product you know and do it well," Adler said. "Focus on quality and realize that your customer is your No. 1 asset."
Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer David Mielach at Dmielach@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @D_M89.