Jewish News goes behind the scenes at Rakusen’s matzah factory

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Jewish News goes behind the scenes at Rakusen’s matzah factory

A self-confessed fan of the Jewish cracker sees the magic of matzah making

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

The making of matzah in all its glory
The making of matzah in all its glory

Everyone, at some time, has thought about their last meal. Though there is small chance of that finale menu being needed, it’s good to plan ahead and my own bemuses most because it’s matzah. Not ‘matzah déshabillé’ as eaten by the Israelites, but lightly spread with butter and a Cheddar wedge. Jam works too, as does cream cheese and I never dismiss a sweep of chopped herring. But ultimately if no cover is available I’ll take it dry.

If looking like Ena Sharples got me on the production floor, I was doing it

My late mother Carole, bless her, was also matzah mad, and we often chose Jewish crackers over a fancier supper. With this much affection for unleavened bread, it won’t surprise you that I jumped at the chance to visit Rakusen’s, in much the same way a sweet lover would to a Wonka Factory invite. There would be no chocolate lake or everlasting gob stopper, but, on arrival, I was given the official Rakusen’s white coat and hair net. If looking like Ena Sharples would get me on to the production line, I was wearing it.

I searched for words that would turn matzah ingredients into poetry
but, in the absence of seasoning, even Keats would struggle to romanticise flour and water. But there is something sensory in Rakusen’s use of fine English wheat flour and Yorkshire water, which Lazarus Rakusen started blending in 1900.

Born in Lithuania in 1881, Lazarus emigrated to Leeds as a child, later changing his name to Lloyd when he became a jeweller and watchmaker. The clue to his previous trade is the inclusion of a pocket watch in the  company logo,but it was his side line in matzah making that shaped his future.

Founder Lloyd (Lazarus) Rakusen

Lloyd first made matzah in his kitchen workshop with a small hand machine of his own invention and assisted by four staff made the crackers, though only in the month preceding Passover. But the Jewish population of Yorkshire kept growing and once Leeds was identified as “a continental Jewish ghetto”, by the Yiddish press, the demand for Rakusen’s matzah grew too. Not that Lloyd was complaining, and happily moved to larger premises on Meanwood Road, joined by his son Philip in 1930. Thirty years later there were 400,000 potential matzah buyers across the UK, an alarming contrast to our now much depleted numbers.

But with the community reaching its apogee in the sixties, Rakusen’s and Sons were operating year round and that continues, with Passover still a prompt for even more crackers. Creating the ‘Kosher for Pesach’ kind means it’s been all systems go since January at the HQ on Clayton Wood Rise. A stone’s throw from Headingley cricket ground it’s an odd location for matzah mass production, but Lloyd liked it enough to schlep three of his five ovens to the site.

“Two ovens didn’t make it,” explains executive Morgan Hammond. “So the lines are numbered 3,4,5.”  ‘3’ is the Passover line and most watched over in the Pesach lead up with Rakusen’s under the supervision of the London Beth Din. I have a tendency to humanise inanimate objects and started to wonder if the matzos knew they were being shomer-supervised as they emerged from the oven on to the conveyor belt.

That Jewish cracker I adore

As for the matzos that came out too dark, it was straight into the bin, which was hard to watch, but Rakusen’s have been doing this too long to risk sending out a cracker that might look burnt. They do use the term ‘flame baked’ on their Bonn’s & Co crackers which are also made on site, but they are deemed the more exclusive crunch and sold at Fortnum & Mason.

Lloyd partnered with Joseph Bonn, the UK’s first kosher caterer and Theodore Carr around 1910 to form Bonn Rakusen & Co, but you now see the sole name Rakusen’s on everything from Mini Snackers to Tomor, as well as that old favourite Matzo Meal produced on line 5.

Unfazed by the three million or more matzahs produced in a normal week, the significant increase for Passover doesn’t trouble Morgan who joined Rakusen’s degree apprenticeship scheme and even has his own recipe for matzo pizza. Morgan like most of the employees isn’t Jewish, but there is an enthusiasm for our dry crackers that is stirring.

An ideal candidate to promote the matzos, Morgan is as informed about quality control as he is about the health benefits. “Just look at the box,” he says. “Matzos are vegan, vegetarian and dairy free, 75 calories a slice and 0% fat.” As he was so buoyant about the salubrity of the matzos, it felt wrong to say I’d still eat them if they were 1,000 calories a slice, so we moved on to packing.

There are no Rakusen or Bonn family members attached to the company anymore and the primary owner Andrew Simpson has channelled export to the USA and South Africa with the Middle East and China in his sights. It’s heartening to know that the Chinese who can make anything are eluded by crackers created by fleeing Israelites.

King Charles will receive his own matzah

When it was time for me to flee, Morgan gave me a matzo gift bag filled with Mini Snackers and a box or two of my favs. Tempting though it was to ask for the box created for the late Queen’s 75th jubilee, I resisted. We all know what happened to greedy children in the Wonka factory, so I’ll just have to wait for the King Charles coronation box and buy it myself. And you know I will.






Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: