Century-old NYC matzo factory heads to high-tech suburban facility

Unleavened bread will be a cherished part of Friday night's start of Passover
Unleavened bread will be a cherished part of ... 05:03

From the outside, Streit matzo factory is a thriving business, but step inside, it's more like a museum of the way life used to be. Since 1915, the Streit family has been making matzo on Manhattan's Lower East Side, but this year's Passover will be especially poignant, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"Walk in, and then just turn the clock back 60 or 70 years and close your eyes and that's what life was like here," Aaron Yagoda said.

He's the great grandson of Aaron Streit, the Austrian immigrant who started the business in the same tenement-turned-factory.

But this summer, the last matzo factory in New York City is moving.

"No one in this day and age would design a factory in four converted tenement buildings on the Lower East Side," Yagoda said.

And no one would design one without a proper loading dock. Hard to believe, but the world's second largest producer of matzo still loads its boxes into tractor trailers idling curbside out front. As the Streit's factory knows, any company that stays stuck in the past, no matter how celebrated it is, risks its future.

Yagoda and his cousins Alan Adler and Aaron Gross now make up the fourth and fifth generations to run the business.

One problem they face, much of the equipment is severely outdated.

"We can't find parts for anything," Adler said. "The ovens, can't even get guys to come in and look at 'em, to work on 'em, we've looked for years."

So last year the company's board decided it was time to finally accept one of the many offers for their building developers had been making for years and move to a spacious, modern facility in the suburbs.

Passover matzo is prepared under a different set of rules than everyday matzo with rules overseen by a rabbi.

"Passover matzo, 18 minutes, right? So the time that the flour and the water first touch, the whole process has to be done within 18 minutes. It has to be outside the oven. So there are very strict time constraints on that," Gross said.

A few weeks ago, Streit's made its last Passover matzo ever in their factory.

Annie Polland said historians have called Lower East Side "the Jewish Plymouth Rock."

She teaches about Jewish life at New York City's Tenement Museum.

"This is a place where Jews came and for the first time had to figure out how to balance their Jewish traditions with America," Polland said.

Between 1880 and 1924, 2.5 million Jews came to America, scratching out footholds on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Streit's is among the last of the holdouts to resist the inevitable forces of change that have been transforming the neighborhood for decades, as the Yiddish signs gave way to other languages.

Come June, the very last Streit's Matzo will be baked in the factory on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. While Jews around the world will sit down to retell the story of their departure from Egypt, the Streit family will be contemplating its own exodus -- to New Jersey -- where they've got a new factory ready to go.

"I think our biggest issue's going to be who's going to be the last one to walk out that day?" Yagoda said. "Who's shutting the lights? I want to be the one who shuts the lights, he can shut the door, and we'll have to come up with that."

Long ago, Streit's started selling outside the Lower East Side. They now ship nationwide, and Streit's Matzo is now sold worldwide including shipping back to many of the countries where Jewish immigrants left more than a century ago.