Checking in With Streit’s Matzo in the Suburbs

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In the days before Passover on the Lower East Side, we’ve been missing Streit’s Matzo, which sold its Rivington Street factory in 2015 and moved to Rockland County. In The Jewish Daily Forward, there’s a feature this week on the family-run business.

In Orangeburg, New York, Streit’s is now operating out of a 112,000 square foot facility (twice the size of the makeshift Lower East Side headquarters). While the new factory has been up-and-running since January 2017, this is the first year that all of the company’s Passover matzo was produced there. The move was not an easy one – logistically or emotionally — for the Streit family. But as The Forward reports, the new facility makes Streit’s a stronger competitor in the food industry:

If Streit’s former location was Willy Wonka-esque, the new one is straight out of The Matrix, with high-tech robotic pickers and computers controlling conveyor belts and convection ovens producing 2700 lbs. of matzo an hour, a far cry from the 1600 lbs. the former ovens were outputting.

The seven story luxury condo building replacing the factory at 150 Rivington St. was recently topped off. All four penthouse units are under contract for around $4 million each.

Condos Slated For Former Streit’s Matzo Parcel Start at $995,000

150 Rivington St. rendering by Volley Studio, via the New York Times.

150 Rivington St. rendering by Volley Studio, via the New York Times.

Sales have officially launched for the condos set to replace the historic Streit’s Matzo Factory at 150 Rivington St.

StreetEasy has listings for six units in a luxury building that is not yet under construction. A few more apartments are listed on the website 150rivington.com. The Streit family sold the property to Cogswell Lee Development for $30.5 million last year. The factory is being rebuilt in Rockland County.

The smallest unit, measuring 544 square feet, can be yours for $995,000. A penthouse unit, with 3-bedrooms, is priced at $3.8 million. There’s a 1500 square foot rooftop terrace and a fitness center.

The broker spiel notes that, “the vibrancy of the Lower East Side’s punk rock past paved the way for the high-energy nightlife the area is known for today.”

There will be 45 apartments at 150 Rivington St. You can see renderings and floorplans here.

Stringer Visits the Lower East Side, Bemoans the Loss of Streit’s Matzo

Photo courtesy of Natalie Bero/AnnieWatt.com.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer talks with filmmaker Michael Levine. Photo courtesy of Natalie Bero/AnnieWatt.com.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer visited Art on A Gallery yesterday morning to learn more about the new documentary film on Streit’s Matzo and to deliver a message: the city must do more to save cherished small businesses.

An exhibit at the gallery complements the film, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream, which is playing through next Tuesday at Film Forum. Stringer spent some time with filmmaker Michael Levine, who explained the events leading up to Streit’s decision to close its Rivington Street factory after 90 years. The business is relocating to Rockland County. In the next few weeks, the old factory buildings will be demolished to make way for luxury condos.

The film repeatedly drives home the point that members of the Streit family felt a strong emotional connection to the neighborhood and had no desire to leave. In his conversation with Levine, Stringer said, “the city doesn’t work to save small businesses. They work to build luxury condos.”

The comptroller referenced his recent report detailing small business struggles due to mountains of red tape at city agencies. He also alluded to the the city’s decision to lift a deed restriction at the Rivington House nursing home, clearing the way for luxury condos there (Stringer’s office is investigating the matter). Speaking of Streit’s, he said, “this is a perfect example of the trials and tribulations of a business that thrived for more than 90 years but with the onset of gentrification and the inability to work with the city to preserve a business that provided good jobs for people (the business was forced to move)… There’s just something wrong with that.”

Invoking the Rivington House scandal, Stringer added, “A deed restriction was lifted so that a developer could walk away with $72 million literally in the middle of the night. The Lower East Side is such a part of our history over many generations — and we’re seeing it sort of wiped away. Maybe this film will wake people up to realize that businesses like the matzo factory — they don’t have to be collateral damage as we change the skyline of the city.”

150 rivington st.

Levine told Stringer, “The family had tried for many years to get tax incentives to stay (on the Lower East Side)… Finally when they announced that they were leaving is when the city finally offered that to them.” He asked what can be done to make sure other small businesses receive help before it’s too late. Stringer did not have a specific answer but said, “We in government have a responsibility if we want to keep this city diverse and we want to give every family a fighting chance to make it here. I think people are starting to feel this is only a city where wealthy people can do business. That would be a terrible tragedy.”

Yesterday afternoon, we spoke with Aron Yagoda, one of the owners of Streit’s, about the family’s dealings with the city. Over the years, he said, they tried to contact various city agencies about their predicament. “No one would call us back,” he explained. In the end, the factory buildings were sold for $30.5 million. But Yagoda said, “It wasn’t about the money. We did not want to leave the city. That was our home.”  A couple of years ago, he spotted Mayor de Blasio walking down Rivington Street and invited him inside to see New York City’s last matzo factory. The mayor declined, saying he was too busy. That episode made a big impact on Yagoda, who said he became convinced, “the city really doesn’t care.”

There were many reasons for the closure of the Lower East Side factory. There was no getting around the limitations of those old tenement buildings, which could not accommodate modern baking and production equipment. Tax breaks might not have made a difference. But people in this neighborhood will always wonder whether more could have been done to save a business so important to the identity of the vanishing Jewish LES. Could there have been heroic efforts within the community to save Streit’s? The family could have used the news media to get the city’s attention, said Yagoda, but it’s just not something members of a proud, legacy business were comfortable doing.

It’s obviously way too late for Streit’s. But in an email exchange yesterday afternoon, Levine said he hopes “the film will raise awareness of the challenges facing (other) family businesses in the city, and encourage viewers to challenge elected officials to pass measures that would give these businesses the kind of opportunities that seem currently to be reserved only for developers.”

Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream screens twice daily, at 3:40 p.m. and 10:10 p.m., at Film Forum. The film closes after May 10. For tickets and showtimes, visit the film’s website.

One More Week to See Streit’s Matzo Documentary Film

From the Streit's archives: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inspects matzo emerging from the first floor ovens . Photo courtesy of Michael Levine.

From the Streit’s archives: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inspects matzo emerging from the first floor ovens . Photo courtesy of Michael Levine.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to see Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream, there’s still a week left in the documentary film’s run at the Film Forum. Michael Levine’s labor of love, paying tribute to a Lower East Side institution, was only supposed to play during Passover week. But due to high interest, it was extended!

The film doesn’t close until May 10, so there are several more opportunities to catch a project that’s all about the neighborhood’s past, present and future. Streit’s, of course, sold its LES factory buildings last year and is preparing for a move to Rockland County. The site at 150 Rivington St. is destined to become high-end condos.

The weekly box office at Film Forum topped $13,000, and the film was one of the top 10 grossing new theatrical releases nationwide. In a press release, the film’s distributor, Neil Friedman of Menemsha Films, said, “We had high hopes… but (the initial showings) truly exceeded our expectations. Clearly audiences are connecting not only with the story of Streit’s as a beloved matzo producer, but with the broader themes of gentrification and the disappearance of family businesses and manufacturing, all of which are part of daily life for New Yorkers and others around the country. It seems to have tapped into a cultural zeitgeist.”

Here’s what Levine told us about last week’s first screenings:

It was a great week. We had some fantastic Q&As with members of the Streit family (co-owners Aaron Gross and Aron Yagoda) and Elissa Sampson, whose insights are always a pleasure to listen to. I was part of each Q&A, and while I always got a few questions from the audience (ie, but why a film about matzo?!), as is always the case at screenings, the Streit family got most of the questions, which I love to see, because people finally get a chance to talk to the family whose matzo has been a part of their family for however many generations… We also had a great Q&A with longtime Streit’s mechanic, Angelo Curto, who was responsible for keeping those five floors of ancient machinery running at the factory on Rivington Street, and now will have a whole new round of machinery to contend with in Rockland County. While I know he’s excited for the new equipment and perhaps fewer breakdowns to deal with, his passion for that amazing old machinery is palpable. This fall, he’ll be unloading the seven tractor trailers of machinery they saved from the old factory and rebuilding it in working order at the new factory as part of the museum they’re building.

Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream screens twice daily, at 3:40 p.m. and 10:10 p.m., at Film Forum. For tickets and showtimes, visit the film’s website.  Levine and Streit family members will be doing another Q&A after this afternoon’s show.

Streits Matzo and the American Dream – Trailer from Michael Levine on Vimeo.

Here’s the Shiny Future of the Former Streit’s Property at 150 Rivington St.

150 Rivington St. rendering by Volley Studio, via the New York Times.

150 Rivington St. rendering by Volley Studio, via the New York Times.

The developers and/or the New York Times chose the start of Passover to unveil their glassy vision of the former Streit’s Matzo site at 150 Rivington St.

In a larger piece in the Times today, there’s a rendering of the 45-unit condo complex that will begin rising just as soon as construction crews demolish the Streit’s factory buildings. The wrecking crews could arrive in the next week or two.

After 90 years on the Lower East Side, the Streit family sold the property to Cogswell Lee Development for $30.5 million last year. A new matzo factory will open in Rockland County later this year.

The 7-story building will include 45 one and two bedroom apartments, with prices starting at around $975,000. A promotional website has already gone live. Brokers will begin selling the condos next month. More from the Times:

The condo’s design, with 13,000 square feet of retail, will be clad in glass, a modern break from the brick buildings that stood there before. Developers plan to decorate the lobby with memorabilia from the original building. Other salvaged objects will be housed in a museum at the new Streit’s factory, which is being built in Rockland County, N.Y. “You have to try to preserve at least some link to the past,” said Arthur R. Stern, the chief executive of Cogswell Lee Development, which is developing 150 Rivington Street with Gluck+, which is also the architect for the project. “That’s ultimately what made the city what it is.”

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Instagram: Relevance New York.

One day last month, the developers staged a ceremony on the roof of 150 Rivington St.:

A feng shui expert, R. D. Chin, blessed the property with a bowl of vodka-soaked rice, orange peels and incense. “It’s very important to acknowledge the changing of the hands,” he said. The factory was empty, the stairwells lit with lanterns. Rooms that once housed 75-foot ovens and dozens of workers now had plywood covering the windows. Aaron Gross, a fifth-generation owner of the family business, was reflective as he stood on the roof. “It’s eerie being back,” he said. “You’re expecting to see the machines, you’re expecting to see the people.”

As you might have heard, a new documentary, “Streit’s: Matzo & the American Dream,” opened at the Film Forum this week. You can read our interview with filmmaker Michael Levine here.

“Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream,” Now Showing at Film Forum

Still image from: "Streit's: Matzo and the American Dream," by Michael Levine.

Still image from: “Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream,” by Michael Levine.

In the days leading up to Passover this year, something is missing on the Lower East Side. It’s all too apparent to anyone who walks down Rivington Street, where the aroma of fresh-baked matzo wafted from the Streit’s factory buildings for so many decades. But there’s some consolation. The new documentary film, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream, debuted at the Film Forum Wednesday evening.

The factory closed last year, ending a 90-year-run in the historic neighborhood. The Streit family is preparing to open a new facility in Rockland County. Any day now, the collection of buildings at 148-154 Rivington St. will be demolished for more condos.

Last week, we talked with filmmaker Michael Levine about the documentary, which was shot inside the factory over a three-year period. The film, however, is not about the end of another Jewish institution on the Lower East Side. Instead, it’s a testament to one family’s determination to stay in a changing community, to persevere in spite of the odds stacked against the business.

Levine found out about the closure during his last week of editing. Once the crushing news was delivered, he decided pretty quickly not to make dramatic changes. “I was thankful to have been there at that time,” said Levine, and “I wanted to “keep that part of the history (of Streit’s) intact and then to show what happens as they try to make the transition.”

There were many reasons for the closure. Modernization was impossible in the cramped tenement buildings. Streit’s, the last family-owned matzo manufacturer, faced stiff competition from large food conglomerates. Plus it had been years since local customers lined up around the block to patronize the retail store on Rivington Street. But in spite of it all, the decision was a wrenching one for members of the family, who felt a powerful emotional pull on the LES.

“This was their entire life,” Levine explained. “For them to make a decision to get up and leave — that was really difficult. They loved the neighborhood. They had an attachment to everything there. It’s why they ended up bringing seven tractor-trailers, everything except the ovens… They were uprooting their entire lives.”

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inspects matzo emerging from the first floor ovens. Photo courtesy of Michael Levine.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inspects matzo emerging from the first floor ovens. Photo courtesy of Michael Levine.

Demolition is set to begin at the former Streit's factory.

Demolition is set to begin at the former Streit’s factory.

Over the years, the Streit family watched as other Jewish businesses closed or moved to neighborhoods with larger Jewish populations. In the past couple of years, the city has made some noise about retaining manufacturing firms. But there were definitely no heroic efforts to save Streit’s.

The owners, said Levine, “had asked over and over whether they could get some sort of small business tax break or something like that.” There wasn’t even a loading zone out front. The business was slapped with tickets just about every day. When the family finally announced they were moving the business, city officials offered tax incentives. “But at that point,” Levine said,” they had already sold the place. It’s not like people didn’t know they could have used it. I think it’s pretty clear the city was, in my opinion, happier to have condos on the Lower East Side than to have manufacturing going on there. They’d rather support that. That’s what they did.”

There are some legacy businesses that haven’t kept up with the times and have lost their customer base. That’s not what happened to Streit’s.  Levine said it’s clear to him the factory should have been given a fighting chance to stay in the neighborhood. “It still was a living, breathing place,” he said. “It was a business… I feel that this is a case, given the proper tools — not only money but other forms of support — they could have had a future on the Lower East Side.”

The new factory site in Rockland County was chosen, in part, to accommodate employees, at least some of whom will be able to commute from the city. At the end of the day, Levine said the documentary tells the “story of a family that really does everything in their power to do right by their employees for the 90 years they were there” in the neighborhood.

Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream opens at the Film Forum on Wednesday. There are daily showings (except Sundays) through April 26. Click here to buy tickets. On Wednesday and Thursday, Levine and members of the Streit family will be present for post-screening talk backs. Lower East Side historian Elissa Sampson will be on hand for a conversation after the 8 p.m. showing on Monday, April 25.

Streit’s Matzo Exhibition Opens This Evening

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The documentary film, “Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream,” opens next week at the Film Forum. We had a good talk with filmmaker Michael Levine yesterday afternoon. We’ll be bringing you that interview on Monday.

But this evening, you can get a taste of what’s ahead at Art on A Gallery, 24 Avenue A. The exhibition features old photographs from the Rivington Street matzo factory, a photo series depicting scenes inside Streit’s just before its closure last year and original machinery. The opening is from 8-10 p.m. tonight. Members of the Streit family will be on hand.

For more on the exhibit, head on over to EV Grieve.

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Streit’s Matzo Buildings Sold For $30.5 Million

Firefighters Respond to a Small Fire at Streit’s Matzo Plant

Touring Streit’s Matzo With Jill Zarin, Marking the End of an Era

Streit’s Matzo is Leaving the Lower East Side

Streit’s Matzo Doc Kickstarter Campaign: Still $12,000 To Go

Last month, we mentioned the documentary film project on Streit’s Matzo.  A Kickstarter campaign to help pay the production costs is winding down May 31. So far, filmmaker Michael Levine has raised $47,000 out of $60,000 required.   If you’d like to help, there are still a couple of days left.  Click here for more info.

 

Streit’s Matzo Documentary Raises $14,000 So Far

This week The Jewish Daily Forward features the Kickstarter campaign in support of Michael Levine’s Streit’s Matzo documentary film project.  The production team has raised $14,000; they’ve got to hit $60,000 by the end of May.  The documentary, “a story of Matzo and the American Dream on the Lower East Side,”  celebrates the Streit family’s decision to stay in the neighborhood in spite of gentrification and competitive pressures.

Levine told The Forward, “You could argue that it would be a more dramatic story of they were, like so many other businesses before them, being forced from the neighborhood… But I honestly think it’s more compelling, and perhaps can have more of a positive impact, to tell the story of a business that has steadfastly refused to leave, to modernize their equipment at the expense of their workers’ jobs.”