I Stole Some Matzo From A Jewish Bakery On Tuesday

Are you up on Moonstrips? They are a delicious type of snack food that I have been enjoying of late. Before I go any further, I should stop and tell you: Moonstrips are a type of matzo. I stole some of them from the company that makes them recently. Sort of. I’ll explain the stealing part more later.

Moonstrips are matzos but they are not plain and tasteless and cardboardy. They are delicious. (And, okay, maybe just a little cardboardy? But not in a terribly off-putting way.) Do you like everything bagels? Of course you do. You live in New York. Or somewhere else. You love everything bagels. They are probably the best kind of bagel. (Them and sesame, if you have some particularly subtle smoked salmon or sturgeon.) Well, Moonstrips, which are made by the kosher food company Streit’s, taste like an everything bagel. They are a crunchy, salty, poppy-and-onion flavored treat.

I learned about them from my kid. He described them to me and my wife once after coming in from the playground outside our apartment building. He said they were crackers that he had tried because there was another kid at the playground whose mom shared them. He said they were the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. But he’s six, and given to grand hyperbole. My wife and I thought maybe “moonstrips” was just a nickname some parent had made up — maybe for some kind of cheese puff thing or something. It didn’t sound like an official product name to us. Especially for matzo.

But we learned that that’s what it was. That’s the name Streit’s chose for their onion-and-poppy flavored matzo. I don’t know why. The other varieties have more normal names, like “Egg & Onion,” “Salt & Pepper,” and “Mediterranean,” which is flavored with sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. (Which, yuck. But then, I’ve never tried them. And I never imagined I’d like any matzo as much as I like Moonstrips. So, you never know.)

The Streit’s bakery happens to be located just a couple blocks from my apartment building. It’s at 150 Rivington Street, on the Lower East Side, where Aron Streit started the company in 1925. Aron, who was Jewish and born in Austria, passed the company on to his sons Jack and Irving when he died in 1937. They then passed it on to their daughters, who run it now. This is a point of pride for the company, as it says on the Streit’s website:

“Streit’s still occupies the same four buildings on Rivington Street where Aron and his sons started baking matzos more than seventy years ago. And the matzo bakery is still a family business. Today, Aron’s granddaughters and great-grandsons run the company. Streit’s is the only family-owned and operated matzo company in America. While others have sold out to large corporations, we at Streit’s continue our family tradition of bringing you the best matzo and kosher food products for Passover and year round.”

The Streit’s bakery is a favorite place of mine to stop into and look around. It’s pleasing to the eye; all white tile, with big, industrial ovens and cool conveyer-belt machines tracking in and out of and around them like a Rube Goldberg contraption. I really like old-fashioned food packaging, too, and there’s a small shop attached to the bakery that has the company’s products, in all their colorful cans and jars and boxes, neatly arranged on a three long shelves. Streit’s makes lots of products other than matzo: soups, macaroons, candies, egg noodles, chow mein noodles, soy sauce. You can tell they don’t sell very much if the stuff there, though. I’ve never seen anyone else in the store. I imagine most of their business is in shipping.

So when we found out that the snacks the kid had taken such a liking to were made so close to us — and that they were considerably less loaded with day-glo chemical powder and triple-fried hydrogenated corn starch than most of the snacks he clamors for — we made a point to pick some up. And, again, I was surprised to learn that they’re really good! I’ve been enjoying them plain, or with cream cheese, or whitefish salad or, most recently, with the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s camembert cheese, which is what French camembert cheese would taste like if the French knew anything about making camembert cheese.*

It was with the camembert that I finished off our last box. And my kid is supposed to bring in a snack to share with his art class this weekend. And he wants to bring Moonstrips. And I wanted more Moonstrips to keep in the house, too. (Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to the stealing part, we’re almost there.) So on Tuesday, walking home from a lunch meeting, I stopped back in to Streit’s.

There was no one at the counter in the shop when I got there, so I waited, perusing the goods, wondering if I should buy a can of soup for the collection of cans I keep in my kitchen. I don’t have any Streit’s cans. I decided against. They’re good-looking, but not really display worthy. (Not like Roland Hearts of Palm, say, or The Allens Cut Okra. Now those are beautiful cans!) I found the Moonstrips on the bottom shelf and grabbed two boxes. Then I waited. Through an open door, I could see into the oven area, where two men were working. One of them stood at the bottom of a ramp, catching the two-by-two-foot sheets of matzos that came sliding out of the oven even thirty seconds or so and arranging them neatly in a tray. Once he had a stack of maybe ten, he’d push the tray to his right, where a colleague broke the sheets into smaller sections and put them in metal baskets moving past him on an elevated track. Swinging like the chairs on a chair-lift at a ski resort, the baskets then carried the matzos to another part of the factory. It was fun to watch.

Still, when, after ten minutes of this, no one had shown up at the counter. I was a little frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to bother the bakers. They were busy keeping up with a conveyor belt. That’s a stressful situation. I remembered what happened to Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. (These guys might have been under more pressure. These might have been Passover matzos they were making, as Passover’s coming up next month. The kosher requirements get extremely strict this time of year. The matzos have to go from oven to box in under 18 minutes, according to Rabbinical law, or they’re considered leavened.) I didn’t want them to have to push the stop button, shut down their whole operation. I didn’t know if they even had a stop button.

I walked to the back of the shop and poked my head through another open door, which led to a stairwell. “Hello?” I called out. No answer.

I considered just putting the Moonstrips back and the shelf and leaving. But I’d already invested all this time. And then I would have to come back to the store later in the week. Who has time for that?

I finally went over to the door to the even area. It was loud in the there, the machinery, so I had to shout: “Excuse me?”

The guy putting the matzos into the swinging trays looked up.

I shouted again. “Is there anyone here? I’d like to buy something.”

He shrugged and smiled.

I walked back to the door in the back again. No one was coming down the stairs.

I thought about just walking out of the store with the matzos. It would serve them right, I thought, for leaving a store so unattended. For inconveniencing one’s customers like this. What kind of way is this to run a business? But then I felt guilty. I didn’t want to be a thief. I didn’t want to steal stuff. Especially not from such a nice, local, family owned business; one that I imagine is not exactly thriving as the old world changes to the new.

I went back and looked into the oven room. “I’m just gonna leave money on the counter!” I shouted.

The basket guy smiled and waved.

I went back at looked at the matzo shelf. A price-tag under the Moonstrips spot said “$2.00.” I opened my wallet. I had a couple twenties, a five dollar bill and three singles. I felt some coins in my pocket, and fished them out. Two quarters, two dimes, a nickel and two pennies. So I had $3.78.

So, an ethical question. Do you leave an extra dollar extra? No big deal. Just a dollar. But then I’m, what, tipping the place for shitty service?

I guess I could have just bought one box, the one for my kid to take to his art class. But I wanted some Moonstrips for home, too. For myself. Like I said, they’re very tasty.

Technically, I suppose, I am a thief. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I’m thinking of it more like I owe Streit’s 22 cents. Maybe I’ll drop it off sometime if I’m passing by. Or maybe I won’t.