Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Streit’s: Matzo Once Baked Fresh on the Lower East Side
Streit’s packed up their matzo bakery and moved to Rockland County, it really
was the end of an era. You can still see remnants of the neighborhood’s Jewish
heritage (Katz’s Deli, Economy Candy), but blue collar factory jobs are few and
far between. The Streit family and their friends reflect on the company’s
cultural significance in Michael Levine’s Streit’s:
Matzo and the American Dream (trailer here), which opens today in New York at Film Forum.
Streit and his brother Irving founded Streit’s in 1916, but for decades, the
former’s son Jack served as the company’s charismatic leader. It was strictly
kosher, but you did not need to be Jewish to work there. In fact, their
workforce reflected the diversity of the neighborhood. They survived after the
other competing matzo companies were corporately absorbed, becoming brands
without a box. Yet, even the most traditional among the three cousins who own
and operate the company have to concede their Rivington location is no longer
it would be interesting to learn the state of the company’s ledger before they
made the move, especially since they owned their much coveted building. Nobody
doubts they were operating in the red, but it would be instructive to see just
exactly why. It obviously was not rent, but presumably taxes and mandated
health insurance costs were considerable.
Levine is not interested in this kind of nitty-gritty reality. He would rather
bemoan the despised gentrification phenomenon, which the film does, over and
over again. Frankly, talking heads like LES historian Elissa Sampson are like a
broken record repeatedly making the same complaints. You could easily forget it
was conceived as a documentary about a matzo-making family.
is kind of cool to see how matzo is made the ultra-old school way and the
Streit family history is a fascinating bootstrap success story. Frustratingly,
Levine does not do them justice. He would rather agonize over the uncertain
future of Streit’s’ employees, particularly the morose Anthony Zapata, who
probably gets more screen time than the three Streit cousins put together.
It turns out many of
their Rivington employees opted to follow the company to Rockland County, but
who knows? Maybe if they had voted to de-authorize their union a few years
earlier, Streit’s would have had greater flexibility during this difficult
juncture. More about gentrification gripes than its ostensive subject, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream is
really not recommended when it opens today (4/20) in New York, at Film Forum.