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Matzo: A Summer Camp Love Story

The Matzo Project

When Ashley Albert shared the idea that someone should start an artisanal matzo company with her camp friend Kevin Rodriguez around 2015, she meant he should do it, not they as a pair.

But that’s exactly what the two are doing.

Cut to January 2017 when the duo officially launched The Matzo Project with its iconic grandma-in-sunglasses packaging and cheeky copy. Think “Would it kill you to try something new?” and “Eat Something, You Look Skinny.”

These childhood friends were not serial food entrepreneurs before this, but now they have an incredibly popular brand that has expanded every year of its existence. We chatted with Albert to get the history of the company, hear about their goals for the future and learn why matzo shouldn’t be relegated to eight days each spring.

Did you have food backgrounds?

None of us had any formal food backgrounds. Snacking is my personal brand. I’m the person you call in the middle of the night and say, “I’m on Third Street and Fourth Avenue and I need a salty chocolate chip cookie,” so it was not a surprise that I got into the food thing. Kevin was a stay-at-home dad who was ready to make a change. Over the years he had come up with some things that he wanted to do but never quite hit on the thing for himself. His wife is Chinese and they were maybe going to do a hand-pulled noodle company.

At one point he came to me and said he wanted to start a gelato company. I said, “Kev, I’ve never once needed gelato and couldn’t find it or wished I was closer to a gelato place or had a gelato emergency. This is just not a problem that needs solving.” We went around to all of the gelato places in the city and at the end of the day he realized it was a terrible idea.

I told him about an idea I’d had for like 25 years and couldn’t believe nobody had done. I said, “You should start an artisanal matzo company.” He thought it was a great idea so I told him good luck, send me a box. He went home and started working on the recipe. He would drop off numbered bags for me and I would try them like a matzo czar and I would tell him saltier, less oil, more flour. When I tried the one, I knew it was it.

Was he a competent home cook?

He was, but he wasn’t known for anything. He’s a meticulous person and he’s got a refined palate, but he’d never made matzo before.

What happened after you nailed the recipe?

Because I had the idea macerating in my head for so long, I knew exactly what the box should look like, I knew who was going to buy it and I knew what felt like “it.”

In the cultural lexicon there’s the kindly, maternal sweet grandmother and there’s the get-off-my-lawn crotchety grandma, but there’s no stylish, funny hip grandma and that’s what our grandmas were. They were really smart and sharp and cool. Our grandmas are the grandma on the box. It was easy for us to write the copy because it came from a really organic place.

Without the eyes, to me she looks like just an old white grandmother but somehow she’s totally ethnically ambiguous. We get people who are like this is my Jamaican grandmother and this is my Korean grandmother, this is my Italian grandmother. Somehow from a certain angle, she’s just sort of everybody’s grandmother and it turns out everybody’s grandmother wants you to date and wear a sweater; it’s not just specific to Jewish grandmothers.

Were you two people who ate matzo year round?

I think we are both the kind of people who buy a box of matzo on Passover the way I also buy a thing of eggnog during Christmas: as a way to feel festive and celebrate the holiday. I love any reason to celebrate and any sort of tradition.

During the rest of the year I never really thought about eating matzo. We definitely have people who come up to us and whisper that they eat matzo year round like it’s a secret. It’s just a good, neutral crispy cracker. My pitch is always that we are more versatile than a pita chip, more flavorful than a water cracker and more elegant than a saltine, but it sort of works in all three of those capacities.

You’ve expanded your product line; how did you decide which direction to go in?

I think we’re lucky in that we have this really specific lens to look through for everything. If you’re just jumping off from the point of matzo, it’s like what can we make with matzo? Making flavors is an obvious choice. Making the matzo chips seemed like a good way to break the paradigm for people to change it so they really started to see matzo as a year round snack and not just this bread of affliction that you ate once a year at Passover.

Then we were like, of course you have to make a matzo ball soup kit. If we’re already making the matzo ball soup kit, we might as well make matzo crumbs separately. We do an ice cream flavor here in New York. We do a chocolate during Passover season. It’s all about what can we throw a matzo in that will still be delicious after we throw it in.

Are your products kosher?

Up until now all of our stuff is kosher but not kosher for Passover. For me it’s kosher for Passover. We didn’t spring for the stamp, it’s just not certified. Nothing else on your table is certified kosher for Passover. I say I can eat it on Passover, it just depends on how important that stamp is for you.

What kind of response did you get when you went on sale and were trying to get people to eat matzo year round?

I set up meetings with a few local gourmet shops in Brooklyn and Manhattan and the first four places said they’d take four cases of each flavor. We were making it by hand so there was no way we were going to be able to meet four cases of each flavor, especially if they needed more. I went back to each store and said we would make as much as we could and do a little press and call it a trial run.

People were waiting outside the stores before they opened. We were completely sold out by 11 a.m. That proved people might actually want this, so we scaled up a bit more. Then we went to the Fancy Food Show and got all of these orders and realized we were still too small. We took six months to really scale up and launched the following January. Now we have enough capacity to feed the world matzo.

Anything else you want to share?

We are on Jet Blue right now which is super fun. We’re in the snack packs hanging out with the beef jerky and cheese crisps and M&M’s and Swedish Fish, which proves to me that matzo can be a year round snack. That’s been really great in terms of awareness. For us, it’s a good cracker and it’s vegan and nut free and dairy free and sugar free and it’s just a good, simple cracker.

When I was a kid you went to a Middle Eastern restaurant and pita chips were these foreign exotic things. Now you don’t even think of pita chips as being something from the Middle East. They’re just something you eat with hummus, which you also don’t think of being from the Middle East; it might as well be French onion dip. I think for us that’s our goal, just to add these products to the general world and have it be something that we’re sharing from our culture instead of something that’s insular and only relevant to our culture.


Sarah Strong

Sarah Strong is a New York City based writer who holds a master’s degree in food studies and is obsessed with television. You can follow her on Instagram at @feedsstrong to see where she eats, what she cooks and what sneakers she’s wearing.


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