Showing posts with label Streit's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Streit's. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Q&A with East Village filmmaker Michael Levine, whose documentary on Streit's airs on PBS

"Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream," the 2016 documentary by East Village-based filmmaker Michael Levine, is out this week on DVD ... in addition, nearly two dozen PBS affiliate stations around the country, including New York’s flagship WNET, are screening "Streit's" throughout the rest of April and the beginning of May to coincide with Passover. (Details below.)

The documentary, which enjoyed a three-week run at the Film Forum in 2016, follows the last family-owned matzo bakery in America during their final year in their factory on Rivington Street. The factory moved out of the Lower East Side in 2015 after 90 years in that location.

The family sold its original factory to Cogswell Realty in January 2015 for a reported $30.5 million. A pricy glass box is now in its place on Rivington and Suffolk.

[Image by Leo London/Flickr]

Levine talked to me about the DVD release and his continued relationship with the Streit family.

What's your reaction to the DVD coming out at long last combined with the PBS screenings?

Well, it's very exciting, of course, and overwhelming, too.

When I first began work on this film at the start of 2013, I had no idea where it would end up. I had big hopes for it, because I believed then, as I do now, that the stories of the Streit family and staff, and their connections to the Lower East Side community and immigrant history, were ones that needed to be heard. And when the Streit family ended up, during the film's production, making the extraordinarily difficult but sadly necessary decision to leave the neighborhood after a full century, the story of course took on an additional, unexpected dimension.

But, as a documentary filmmaker, you never know if your project will see the light of day, which is in large part to say that you never know if the story you personally find so important will resonate with others the same way.

The fact that the film has ended up getting so much exposure, from the festival circuit, to theatrical, and now to screening on PBS, means to me that it has resonated with people, which as someone who cares strongly about this neighborhood and deeply respects the way Streit's has run their business for 100 years, means a lot.

And the DVD coming out is exciting, too. We had to cut the film down a bit to fit time slot constraints for PBS, so the DVD offers a way of being able to share the full 83-minute version that ran in theaters. Plus, we were able to include bonus features, like 18 minutes of film dating back to the 1940s that we found in the closet at the old Streit's factory on Rivington Street — just amazing stuff from a historical/cultural perspective that would likely never be seen otherwise.

It's also great getting emails, as we have, from younger people who want to buy the DVD for their grandparents because they know they grew up with Streit's, or from grandparents who want to buy it for their grandkids to help pass on that legacy. It's been fulfilling to see people connecting with a story that means a lot to me.

Are you still in contact with any of the family members? Do you still feel a connection to them?

Absolutely! There was never any thought that we'd lose touch once they left the neighborhood.

First, they still love the Lower East Side — it just got to a point where, because of a combination of overseas competition from non-union producers, plus the failure of NYC to offer them any incentives to stay, they were left with the option of sticking around a few more years and likely going out of business, or finding a way to keep the company going elsewhere.

The fact that they decided to relocate within commuting distance for most of their long-time employees speaks to the ethic of loyalty that drew me to their story in the first place.

In my mind, the loss of their presence in the neighborhood is a tremendous one, but I know they still feel a connection to the neighborhood, and I still feel a connection to them, and to all the workers there.

Their location on Rivington Street was iconic, that's for sure, but it's the people who have run the business and who work there, and their humanity and ethics that make their story extraordinary, and all of that has traveled with them up to Rockland County, N.Y., where their factory is operating now. I've been to the new factory a few times, and the machinery may be newer, but there are a lot of familiar faces, which is great to see.

Have you seen the almost-completed condoplex that took the place of Streit's?

To be honest, I've seen pictures of it, and caught glimpses of it from a distance, but I haven't been able to bring myself to actually walk on that block since the factory was demolished. I'm sure at some point I will, but I'm just not there yet.

And honestly, one of the things I fear most about it is something that I've experienced passing by any number of locations where iconic buildings or businesses have disappeared, which isn't a sense of loss — that you can feel from the comfort of home — it's the lack of a feeling of loss, or a feeling of anything for that matter, because what has replaced it bears no resemblance to what was there before.

It's not that you ever forget a place like Streit's — I can conjure up the feeling of walking through that building, the sounds of the old machinery, the smell of fresh matzo baking, anytime I like. It's that standing in the place where it was does nothing to remind you of any of those things because all markers of its existence have been erased.

In some way, maybe it's for the best, at least psychologically, because so many of the places that meant something to me in this neighborhood have disappeared, if I had experience the true weight of their loss every time I passed by their former location, I don't think I'd make it down the street!

But when it comes down to it, honestly I think it's dangerous in an insidious way, because it can lead to forgetting how much we have lost and how much we have to lose if we don't take action to keep these kinds of places around. It's one of the reasons I'm so thankful to have been able to shoot this film when I did — so that it can hopefully act as a reminder, as a sort of counterweight to the numbness of walking past a glass-cladded condoplex.

What's your next project?

Well, even though the film has been released, I believe there's still more of the story to tell, because we had to finish filming before the new factory opened. So, for one thing, I plan to do some additional shooting up there, and find a way of offering people a look at where the Streit's story has gone since the film was completed.

Also, when Streit's left Rivington Street, they brought practically everything from the old factory with them, with the intention of devoting a portion of the new factory to a museum, which would include much of their old machinery from Rivington Street in working order. They've asked me to be a part of helping put that space together, and I'm extremely grateful and excited for that opportunity.

As far as the next film, that I'm still figuring out. I've some ideas, and it's just a matter of feeling them out to see what's going to work — and finding funding, of course! This neighborhood and this city have a lot of important stories to tell, and I hope to have the opportunity to document more of them.


The PBS program includes a one-hour version of the film, plus new interviews conducted by PBS with Streit family members. With a multi-year deal in place, Levine said that it appears the film will become an annual Passover tradition on PBS.

The special airs tonight on WNET at 10:30, and again early Sunday at 2:30 a.m. Find all showtimes at this link.

The DVD includes 25 minutes of bonus features, including footage shot at the Streit’s factory on Rivington Street in the 1940s.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A year-end look at the Streit's-replacing condoplex

Here's 150 Rivington, the 7-story glass condoplex with 45 one- and two-bedroom residences at Rivington and Suffolk... a corner better known as the longtime home of Streit’s Matzo Factory from 1925 to 2015.

The last time we checked in on the site — back in March — workers had recently reached the top level. Now it's looking close to completion, clad in floor-to-ceiling glass and 265 custom-cast panels.

The 150 Rivington website lists five residences still available (sales started in 2016). As for the interior, Christopher Robbins at Gothamist toured the new condoplex back in October. (Link here.)

The family-owned business sold its original factory to Cogswell Realty in January 2015 for a reported $30.5 million.

Streit's, who left the LES in 2015, now operates out of more modern facilities in Rockland County. (Here's a story about how they're doing today.)

And here's the slot for the future new ABC No Rio next door...

The city signed off on the new building permit in mid-November, and construction is expected to start in early 2019.

Previously on EV Grieve:
The Times reveals the Streit's-replacing condos; Ben Shaoul wordsmiths gentrification

A celebration of Streit's Matzo Factory starts tonight on Avenue A

Matzo madness as Streit's documentary by East Village resident debuts at the Film Forum

At ABC No Rio's last HardCore/Punk Matinee on Rivington Street (for now)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Construction watch: 150 Rivington St.

Here's a Passover look at the former Streit’s Matzo Factory ... where an under-construction, 7-story condoplex housing 45 units now stands at Rivington and Suffolk...

And the final condo product, as you've likely seen previously...

[Volley Studios]

Streeteasy shows a handful of units still on the market, from a little more than $1 million to $2.7 million.

This corner space was home to Streit’s Matzo Factory from 1925 to 2015. The family-owned business sold its original factory to Cogswell Realty in January 2015 for a reported $30.5 million.

Streit's, who left the LES in 2015, now operates out of more modern facilities in Rockland County. Here's a story about how they're doing today.

...and here's the slot for the future new ABC No Rio next door...

Previously on EV Grieve:
The Times reveals the Streit's-replacing condos; Ben Shaoul wordsmiths gentrification

A celebration of Streit's Matzo Factory starts tonight on Avenue A

Matzo madness as Streit's documentary by East Village resident debuts at the Film Forum

At ABC No Rio's last HardCore/Punk Matinee on Rivington Street (for now)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Matzo madness as Streit's documentary by East Village resident debuts at the Film Forum

"Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream," the documentary by East Village-based filmmaker Michael Levine, starts its week-long run today at the Film Forum.

The film follows the last family-owned matzo bakery in America during their final year in their factory on Rivington Street. The factory moved out of the city in 2015 after 90 years in that location. Condos are on the way.

The Los Angeles Times liked the film ...

Levine shared a few thoughts about the documentary, Streit's and the neighborhood with us on the eve of the film's NYC theatrical debut...

On the appeal of the Lower East Side and Streit's:

My family has had a presence on the Lower East Side in one form or another for around 100 years, and though I grew up in New Jersey, I felt compelled to come back to the neighborhood as soon as I could. I've have been here almost 16 years now — a short time in the scheme of things, I know, but long enough to have watched the systematic destruction of so many of the neighborhood institutions I knew from growing up, as well as the displacement of so many and much of the people and culture that drew me and so many others here in the first place.

When I came across Streit's, after passing by their factory on Rivington Street for years unaware of their presence, they were clearly one of the survivors: A fifth-generation manufacturing business operating with 90-year-old equipment in four tenement buildings — and I was drawn immediately to their story.

On the start of filming:

When I began filming there in 2013, it was chronicle the history, resilience and resistance of a family and their 60 union employees who had turned down millions to continue a nearly century-long legacy. They hadn't set out to the "last man standing" when it came to manufacturing in the neighborhood — they simply couldn't imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. This was their home.

But it was clear from the start that their presence their was, as one longtime worker puts in in the film, "in the balance." Despite owning the buildings since the 1930s, the factory had been losing money for several years, as the trifecta of aging, irreplaceable machinery, competition from more modern factories, and a lack of interest from the city as far as supporting manufacturing in the neighborhood finally came to a head.

During what was meant to be the last week of editing the film, the family at last made the announcement that they would be closing the factory and using proceeds from the sale of the buildings to build a new factory in Rockland County.

For another year, I continued filming as they slowly emptied the factory and began their transition to their new facility. I truly believe the Streit family has done as much as anyone could hope for, given the challenges they faced: they stuck it out as long as they could, and instead of simply pocketing the money from selling the buildings, they dove right into building a new factory, keeping it close enough to the city to be within commuting distance of many of their longtime employees, all of whom were offered jobs there.

On the factory's departure from the Lower East Side:

For the Lower East Side, though, the loss has less of a silver lining. In the next several weeks, the former factory buildings are slated to be demolished to make room for seven floors of luxury condos and retail, something that seemed unthinkable – though I suppose shouldn't have been — when I started this film three years ago.

I'm grateful that I had opportunity to start filming when I did, to experience the place as a still-vital piece of the community. And while the timing of the film coming out as its "main character" awaits the wrecking ball is somewhat ridiculous to consider, I hope the timing can perhaps offer a unique opportunity to appreciate a place like Streit's at the same moment it is being lost, and hopefully spark some conversation and action to protect the places like it, and the people who depend on them for their livelihoods, and remind people that the Lower East Side is still a neighborhood of resilience and resistance after all.


The film's official premiere is tonight at 8. Afterward, there's a premiere party of sorts upstairs at 2A (on Avenue A and Second Street) featuring food from Russ & Daughters. Members of the Streit family and workers from the factory will be there. The party is open to anyone, not just people coming from the Film Forum.

Meanwhile, across the street...the Streit's exhibit continues (through May 5) at Art on A Gallery. The gallery is open tonight until midnight. (You can read more about the exhibit here.)

At both the gallery and at 2A this evening, Levine says that people will be able to buy tickets to the film. (Buy a ticket and receive a film poster and box of matzos.)

Previously on EV Grieve:
A celebration of Streit's Matzo Factory starts tonight on Avenue A

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A celebration of Streit's Matzo Factory starts tonight on Avenue A

When we exchanged emails with filmmaker Michael Levine the other day, the East Village resident had just lugged 1,200 pounds of matzo-making machinery and 800 pounds of matzo to Avenue A from Rockland County.

Levine's documentary, "Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream," which explores the history of the family-owned matzo factory on the Lower East Side, debuts next Wednesday at the Film Forum.

Ahead of that, Art on A Gallery, 24 Avenue A between East Second Street and East Third Street, will feature an exhibit on Streit's starting tonight. (Levine shared the photos in this post while setting up the exhibit yesterday.)

"We'll have archival photos of the Rivington Street factory from the 1920s-1950s on display," Levine said. "We'll also have a photo series from 2015, just before the factory closed, by Joseph O. Holmes."

Other exhibit highlights include:

• Original machinery from the Streit's factory on display (Streit's saved seven tractor trailers of machinery from the factory — basically everything but the ovens — to rebuild at the new factory in Rockland County as a museum.)

• Work by Judi Harvest, an artist who has been creating gold-leafed matzo since 2000. She's creating a wall of special pink-gold matzos in honor of Streit's.

• Archival video projected on the rear wall of the gallery, shot at the Streit's factory in the 1940s.

"I had this idea when I thought about the fact that this would be the first Passover in a century without Streit's having some kind of physical presence in the neighborhood," Levine said. "There are so many people who would make their annual pilgrimage to the factory, and while I couldn't give them that, I wanted there to be some place for them to go and get in the holiday spirit, as it were. Streit's didn't sponsor any of this in any way — nor did they have any financial/editorial say in the film — but they're excited about the idea."

The four buildings that housed Streit's, vacated last year, are set to be demolished next week to make way condos.

"The idea of those buildings coming down, and maybe even more so what will replace them, makes me sick to my stomach," he said, "but I suppose if it has to happen, maybe [the film and gallery show] might provide a little more perspective than usual on the significance of that loss." (As Alan M. Adler, a great-grandson of Aron Streit, the business’s founder, told the Times in January 2015: "[T]he reality is that operating a modern factory in four old buildings has finally caught up with us.')

The opening is tonight from 8-10. (The exhibit will be up through May 5.) Members of the Streit family as well as several of the factory workers will be at the gallery tonight.

The documentary plays the Film Forum April 20-26. You may find tickets here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

At Streit's, a tradition

Parade magazine today features Lower East Side institution Streit's matzo factory. (Read the feature here ... which includes a photo essay.) When the factory opened in 1925, lines for people waiting for fresh matzo "snaked around the block." (Ed. Note: Call 311!)

Today? “Now, 20-somethings roll out of the after-hours bars across the street in the morning,” says Alan Adler, [founder Aron] Streit’s great-grandson.


Despite lucrative real estate offers, the company has stayed put. “Being a family business, we have a legacy,” Adler says. “We try to keep tradition alive as best we can.”

[Photo via Jeremiah's Vanishing NY]