Each year for the past 80 years, more than 1 million sheets of matzoh have been manufactured for Passover in Jersey City but yesterday, the matzoh machines fell silent.
The Manischewitz factory in Jersey City produced its last run of matzoh on Wednesday, with a gala event featuring a tour of the plant and appearances by dignitaries. Within the next few months, the venerable kosher food company will move to the renovated Rokeach plant in Newark, bringing both brands under the same roof. The company plans to leave Jersey City in March and be fully operational in Newark by July, in time to begin production for Passover ‘008.
"We’ve had 75-plus years in Jersey City," said Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns Manischewitz and Rokeach. "It’s a historic manufacturing site for us, but one that is old and inflexible in meeting the changing consumer needs we see in the marketplace in ‘006 versus 193’ technology."
The Jersey City plant is 100,000 square feet, spread out over six stories. The Rokeach plant is more than ‘00,000 square feet on one level, which Fingerman said is more efficient for a manufacturing plant.
"It’s better to be on one long floor and not have to use stairs and elevators to move product, raw materials, and people. [The Jersey City factory] was an inefficient place to upgrade in any reasonable sense," he said.
R.A.B. acquired the Rokeach brand in May and saw the potential in its Newark location. The company will spend approximately $15 million to refurbish the plant to make way for Manischewitz. The latter operated another plant in Vineland, which produced the company’s canned and bottled goods, like soup. That plant closed in the spring, and production was moved to Newark.
The Rokeach plant employs 180 people, while Manischewitz employs 100 during its peak season for Passover production, August through January. Changes to the number of personnel, including mashgichim, have not been decided upon, Fingerman said.
Production of familiar Rokeach products will continue, Fingerman added. R.A.B., which also owns Mother’s, Horowitz, Mishpacha, and Season, among other kosher brands, will keep the products most associated with the brand name and remove several duplicate items.
"Onion soup mix is a leading product," Fingerman explained. "Manischewitz had an onion soup mix, but it wasn’t a good seller. We’re discontinuing the Manischewitz mix and focusing on Goodman’s. Line by line, we’ll be making those tradeoffs over a year or two."
Part of the decision to move was based on the rising value of land in Jersey City, Fingerman said. R.A.B. sold the Manischewitz plant in March to the development firm Toll Brothers for more than $35 million. The firm took ownership at the end of March, and R.A.B. has been leasing the plant until it finishes its transition.
A high-rise luxury tower on top of almost 60,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space will be built on the factory site, said Bob Antonicello, executive director of the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency.
"The natural flow for New York’s growth overflow is into Jersey, so it’s really driven up our land prices," he said. "We’re rapidly becoming a bedroom community and a white-collar job force. Most of our jobs going forward are going to be white-collar retail and entertainment jobs in Jersey City. Manischewitz was a holdout for many years, an anomaly for us."
While Manischewitz’s move will mean the loss of about 100 jobs in Jersey City, Antonicello said they will be replaced with ’00 to ”5 retail, entertainment, and maintenance jobs, as well as about ‘,000 construction jobs.
The new matzoh oven in Newark will produce more matzoh in a single location than any other matzoh oven in the world, said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, administrative rabbi of R.A.B.
"The consumer will be very well served," he said of the new equipment, which will more quickly and easily switch between production of Passover and non-Passover goods.
"New Jersey should be proud that the single most important kosher company in the world which is the combined Manischewitz, Horowitz, Rokeach facility is in New Jersey. It is a credit to all the good people who helped make it what it is."