A Mexican Matzo Plant Presses On

By Jennifer Siegel

Published April 07, 2006, issue of April 07, 2006.
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For Mexico City’s David and Hershl Fiiller, making matzo is a family tradition with trans-Atlantic roots.

The brothers, children of Polish immigrants who arrived in the 1920s, grew up helping their parents in the bakery adjoining their small downtown abode. Today the site is home to the Fiiller bread factory, a 4,000-square-foot facility with 25 delivery vans. It is one of the largest suppliers of kosher bread products in the country.

The siblings spent a recent Sunday morning giving the Forward a tour of their matzo-making facility, which is housed in a modest, rented space across the street from their factory. In one small alcove, two men in Fiiller T-shirts stood juicing bushels of oranges for the egg matzo. While elsewhere, apple cider is a key ingredient, here the brothers make use of plentiful citrus.

In a typical year, the Fiillers produce 70,000 pounds of matzo — regular, egg, whole wheat and chocolate covered — for Mexico’s approximately 40,000 Jews, most of whom reside in the capital. It is the only matzo produced domestically, and the brothers consider their work a labor of love.

Their equipment, roughly 80 years old, was purchased by the Fiillers’ father, Leib, soon after he arrived in Mexico, and has been in continuous use ever since. Several of the machines were once operated by hand, with motors added only later — including a 3-foot-high matzo press that their father personally carried over when he immigrated.

Across the street, at the Fiillers’ main factory, the air was thick with the smell of yeast and a similar commingling of the old and the new. One of the buildings, which now holds some of the company’s warehousing operations, was once the home in which the brothers grew up.

“This house was never closed,” David, 66, recalled, pointing out where the bedrooms used to be. “Always we had people in — almost every day — and they used to sit and talk. That was the way I used to remember it as a kid.” When David is alone with brother Hershl, 70, the two still speak a mix of Yiddish and Spanish.

In the bakery, balls of dough rest in oval, straw baskets that were imported from Vienna a half-century ago; a few of the baskets still bear a stamp reading “Füller,” the original spelling of the family’s name. (In Mexico, the “ü” was consistently misread as “ii,” so the Fiillers adapted both the spelling and the pronunciation.)

Several years ago the brothers finished a major expansion, putting in ultramodern offices and a gleaming new factory space that is used to produce a new line of health bars. While most of the David and Hershl’s children now live outside of the country, in the United States and in Israel, David’s son-in-law works in the business and so the brothers want to make sure it keeps growing for him.

“It’s like all the world,” David said, pausing for a moment of reflection. “We have products that will stay forever, but after a few years you have to go into new niches, because if not, the big companies will swallow you.”

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