This bittersweet story of our chocolate began with a trading business in 1805 in Damascus. The Ghraoui brand has always been associated with high quality and excellence despite the political hardship that plagued its history, the Ghraoui success and legacy was passed down from one Ghraoui generation to the next.
Although during the 19th century the family’s main activities involved the trading of commodities such as sugar, coffee, tea and fruit, the beginning of the 20th century marked the start of their true industrial venture.
The Ghraoui family, 1914. From left to right: Sadek Ghraoui (Bassam Ghraoui’s father), Ahmad Ghraoui (the father) holding Mohamed, Fawzieh in the back, Nadim, Mahmoud and Shafik
In the early 20th century, the head of the family’s 4th generation, Mr. Sadek A. Ghraoui, was a pioneer in introducing Syrian crafts to the international community. He represented the Syrian merchant and business communities in Levant countries and all over the world.
Sadek Ghraoui was one of the five main founders of the fruit and vegetables canning company ‘Companie National des Conserves’, which was the very first public shareholding company, and also the largest company, in Syria at that time. It employed over 1000 employees, its products were known across Europe and America and it participated in international fairs where Ghraoui products received numerous accolades and awards, including gold medals, from Paris to New York acknowledging their dedication to quality and excellence.
Ottoman Syria was annexed by the short-lived Arab Kingdom of Syria in 1920 and then subsequently became a French mandate.
Ghraoui stand representing Syrian and Lebanese Chambers of Commerce and Industry at the Paris Fare in 1931. Canned products in metal and glass containers are displayed in the stand
Sadek Ghraoui during a visit to a chocolate factory in France, 1931
THE PATH LEADING TO CHOCOLATE
In addition to founding several other big companies – among them the National Sugar Company in Homs and a cement company in Damascus – Sadek Ghraoui engaged in various commercial activities: the importing and distribution of food products led him to new adventures.
After a visit to France in 1931, Sadek Ghraoui decided to introduce quality chocolate to consumers in the Middle East; to people used to traditional Arabic confectioneries, artisan chocolate was a new delicacy and a culinary discovery. At first, chocolate in and of itself was not alluring enough, so sterling silver scissors or a golden letter cutter were included in every chocolate box to tempt people into buying this novelty.
In the beginning, Ghraoui chocolates were made from the imported, excellent quality blocks of French Cacao Barry and the English Lesme cocoa. At the time, the most popular Ghraoui product was the milk chocolate with almonds, which was sold in fancy, thin wooden boxes imported from Austria.
Damascene people began to buy and appreciate this new delicacy more and more; before long, quality chocolate became a much appreciated gift in the Levant region. Once the demand for this new product increased, Mr. Ghraoui brought in a French chocolate expert who spent 12 years in Damascus. His most important role was to match the quality of Ghraoui’s chocolates with the exceptional quality of Ghraoui’s other products, such as its candied fruits, which maintained a superb reputation since the early 19th century.
Mr. Ogisse played a very important role in training the Damascene chocolate makers in the art of manufacturing superior quality chocolate from cocoa.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Ghraoui products were sold in London emporiums such as Fortnum Mason, Selfridges and Harrods. Through the Army & Navy Store in London they even gained the title of Purveyor to Her Majesty, the Queen of England. In Paris, Ghraoui products were sold in Fauchon and Hediard.
Sadek Ghraoui is overseeing the installation and trial of manufacturing biscuits during his last manufacturing project: the Syrian Company for Manufacturing Biscuits and Chocolate, which which became the first Public Private Partnership Company in Syria
Syria gained its independence in 1946 and during its years as the Syrian Republic between 1946 and 1963, its early years were marked by economic growth and political stability. Unfortunately, the political turmoil of the 50s and 60s caused Sadek Ghraoui to suffer serious losses and over a period of a decade his company was nationalised twice.
Workers at the Syrian public shareholding company for biscuits and chocolates, Sadek Ghraoui's last project in 1966.
The first nationalisation occurred after Syria and Egypt were united. President Nasser began a wave of nationalisation in both countries in June 1961, without first consulting the leading Syrian economic experts. The state gained total control of the cotton trade, as well as every import-export company. Bassam Ghraoui’s father lost all his factories when Nasser declared the nationalisation of all the banks and factories.
Following the coup of 1961, Syria seceded from the union and once more became an independent nation. Then in 1963, Sadek Ghraoui decided to found a large manufactory where high quality chocolates, biscuits and confectioneries would be made.
The manufacturing line needed to produce the biscuits was purchased from Werner and Pfleiderer in Stuttgart, the line for the chocolate from the Italian company Carle Montanari and the caramel line from the East German manufacturing combine, Nagema. The new company name was S. Ghraoui and Co. (Syrian Company for Chocolate & Biscuits).
This was the last industrial venture of Bassam Ghraoui’s father. The factory was nationalised under the Baath Party’s leadership in 1965; the Syrian government took complete control of the factory’s management and production, without Mr. Ghraoui.
Bassam S. Ghraoui
BASSAM S. GHRAOUI
Following the complete loss of the enterprise and the untimely death of Sadek A. Ghraoui in 1969, his son, Bassam S. Ghraoui, started over from scratch from the single small shop remaining to the family.
The boutique weathered those difficult times under the management of the former shopkeeper while Sadek Ghraoui’s son completed his studies at university, before taking over the management of the last business to their name.
Bassam Ghraoui founded the Ghraoui Chocolate Company Ltd. in 1996 and opened a factory equipped with the most modern of technological tools in the outskirts of Damascus, where artisan chocolates and confectioneries of unparalleled quality were created. Ghraoui products were made with the utmost attention and the most superb of raw materials were selected as ingredients, so that the expectations accompanying the grand legacy of their brand’s name would be satisfied to the utmost.
Ghraoui chocolates were awarded the ‘Prix d’honneur’ award in 2005 at the most exclusive chocolate fair in Europe, the Salon du Chocolat trade fair in Paris. Thanks to this international success, Ghraoui broadened their participation, including the first annual Salon du Chocolat fair and Chocolate Fashion Show held in Moscow in 2006.
Ghraoui’s dress was designed by Belgian fashion designer Stéphane Mahéas and decorated with chocolate by the Ghraoui factory’s skilled chocolate makers. Ghraoui participated again in the Chocolate Fashion Show in Paris in 2008; the special gown for that show was designed by the famous French fashion designer Jean Doucet and was worn by Miss France 2007, Rachel Legrain Trapani. Ghraoui’s dress was also worn by the French singer Caroline Clément in 2009.
In the wake of the Syrian civil war, the Damascene manufactory was closed in 2012.
‘In 2017, Ghraoui has relaunched. Another page has been turned in Ghraoui’s history: our chocolate was reborn once more, this time in Budapest.’
With a dedication to high quality and excellence for over two centuries, GHRAOUI has accumulated an exceptional expertise about making exquisite artisan chocolate and confectionary products, the GHRAOUI team is proud to introduce a wide selection of delicacies.
Our flagship store is on Andrássy Avenue, in the heart of Budapest. The avenue was listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2002, making it a choice that complements our story perfectly. Since then, three more exceptional Ghraoui boutiques have opened their doors in Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.