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How Manhattan Lost Its Last Matzo Factory

A new documentary examines the struggle of heritage, family-owned businesses through the lens of a matzo factory in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Employees make matzo at the Streit's factory on Rivington in March 2015.
Employees make matzo at the Streit's factory on Rivington in March 2015.AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Michael Levine was stopped for a moment on a corner on Rivington Street when someone passed him a piece of matzo through a window. He’d been walking by the Streit’s factory for years without knowing it was there. “It looked just like the townhouse buildings,” he says. The ovens spanned the length of the facility; sometimes, the employees who worked them, moving the wafers to cooling racks, would hand samples to pedestrians passing by. Levine laughed as he recounted the interaction. “This had kind of been their main PR for the last century.”

The employee invited Levine to come take a look around. “There was a rabbi looking at timers, the smell of the matzo baking, the sound of the machinery,” he says. “It was like stepping into another time.” The filmmaker was hooked. “I knew immediately when I saw it, felt it, and smelled it, that there was a story there to be told.” Though, he adds, “the Streit family thought I was nuts to want to do a feature-length film about matzo.”