Matzo Granola: From Family's Kitchen To Store Shelves
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Well, Passover begins tonight at sundown. Observant Jews will commemorate the mass exodus from Egypt and for the next eight days eat matzo, the dry flat cracker known as much for its bland taste as its symbolism. It's also fueled the entrepreneurial spirit of an Atlanta couple.
Susan Mittleman sampled their business venture, a venture that mixes matzo with granola.
SUSAN MITTLEMAN, BYLINE: Wayne Silverman has made maple-nut matzo granola in his kitchen for more than 40 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATZO BEING BROKEN)
WAYNE SILVERMAN: Well, I've always broken up the matzo myself.
MITTLEMAN: He wanted a way to actually eat something tasty during Passover. He calls it Matzolah.
W. SILVERMAN: I eat my Matzolah in every way possible; I just snack on it, pop it in my mouth. I love to put it into yogurt.
MITTLEMAN: He invited me to try his latest, gluten-free version. He's been tweaking it for the past few months.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRUNCHING)
W. SILVERMAN: That's good. The crunch is great.
MITTLEMAN: Actually, it's really good.
W. SILVERMAN: It's very - it's really good.
MITTLEMAN: Because the Jews were slaves in Egypt and left in haste, they didn't have time for their bread to rise - which is why during Passover, they eat matzo, unleavened bread, and abstain from other grains. So breakfast, says Silverman, can be challenging.
W. SILVERMAN: A lot of people have said breakfast foods at Passover taste like the box. This doesn't taste like the box.
MITTLEMAN: Silverman thought his crunchy mixture of broken matzo, nuts, and raisins was so good he started sending it to friends around the country. They loved it and kept telling him to sell it commercially. About 10 years ago, while living in Austin, Texas, his wife and daughter took it around to some supermarkets, and a few wanted to sell it.
W. SILVERMAN: They got sold at H.E.B's, and some Albertsons, and everyone loved it, it all sold out. And then Safeway said they wanted 10,000 cases, and we got scared and we just said let's go back to our day jobs. And it went into hibernation.
MITTLEMAN: Silverman continued his career in non-profit administration, moved from Texas to North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia, where he eventually got serious about his Matzolah.
W. SILVERMAN: We'd been talking all along, and Laura has said, my wife said, we have to do this. And we can't, you know, end our lives and not know how this would turn out.
MITTLEMAN: So last May, at age 60, he left his job, joined forces with some college friends, invested his savings, and went to New York to find a company to back him. Kosher Passover foods are a small but mighty niche market.
MIKE SCHALL: There is a set of dietary requirements during Passover, and it makes formulating and creating new products a little bit of a challenge.
MITTLEMAN: Mike Schall has worked in food product development for more than 30 years and was CEO of Manischewitz, a major kosher food company. He says Matzolah is a unique product, something he'd never seen before in the kosher food segment.
SCHALL: When you take out corn syrup and other ingredients from kosher for Passover products, it tends to reduce the flavor levels, and Matzolah is one of those items that is a combination of kosher for Passover ingredients that really makes it delicious.
MITTLEMAN: Schall helped introduce Silverman to Streits, a family-owned kosher company that's been making matzo for more than a century in New York's Lower East Side. Streits agreed to make and distribute the product, and became a partner in the company.
When Matzolah made its industry debut last November at the 20th annual Kosherfest in New Jersey, his invention won Best New Passover Product.
LAURA SILVERMAN: Hello.
MITTLEMAN: Consumers got their first taste last month when Laura Silverman brought samples to a Jewish holiday festival in Atlanta.
L. SILVERMAN: Have you tried a sample?
MITTLEMAN: Mother of three Chavi Lewis bought a can on the spot.
CHAVI LEWIS: It's delicious. Tastes like a granola bar. It's really good.
MITTLEMAN: And 66-year old Jonathon Levine...
JONATHON LEVINE: More than acceptable.
MITTLEMAN: He bought three cans.
LEVINE: For Passover products, and just in general, as a trail mix type of thing, it tastes very good.
MITTLEMAN: In less than a year, Matzolah went from Wayne Silverman's kitchen shelf to grocery shelves across the country, at Kroger, Albertsons, Stop and Shop, and Whole Foods - which is selling an exclusive whole-wheat version.
But for Silverman's gluten-free version, you'll have to wait until next summer to try it.
For NPR News, I'm Susan Mittleman in Atlanta.
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