Leonidas (chocolate maker)
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Leonidas is a Belgian chocolate company that produces chocolate and other related products. The company was started in 1913 by Greek-American confectioner Leonidas Kestekides in Brussels although he first began producing his chocolate in the U.S. Even so, according to author and editor Mort Rosenblum, Leonidas chocolate is “real Belgian chocolate, fairly priced, and plenty of people like it.” Its maintenance has been passed down through Leonidas Kestelides’ descendants over the years. Leonidas has 350 shops in Belgium and nearly 1,250 stores in around 50 countries including 340 in France. Leonidas has become one of the highest producing, widespread chocolate companies in the world.
Brussels is considered the “chocolate capital of the world” because it is home to more chocolate factories than any other city on earth. The well-known chocolate makers of Brussels have worked at their trade for over a century. Cocoa beans first entered Europe in the late 16th century when Spanish explorers brought them back from Mexico; it took a century for them to reach Belgium. Belgian chocolate started building its impressive reputation in the late 1800s when King Leopold II harvested cocoa crops in the colonized African Congo. In 1920, Cappadocian Greek American confectioner Leonidas Kestelides (or Kestekidis) founded the Leonidas chocolate brand after marrying Joanna Teerlinck, a young lady from Brussels. He first came to Belgium to attend the Brussels Universal Exhibition at the Brussels World Fair of 1910 as a member of the Greek delegation from the United States. He presented his chocolate at the fair and won a bronze medal. In 1913, he opened a tea room in Ghent. In 1924, Leonidas opened Pâtisserie Centrale, a tea-room on Rue Paul Delvaux in Brussels. His successor Basilio opened his own workshop at 58 Boulevard Anspach; Leonidas’ business was growing rapidly in size and popularity. In 1935, Basilio turned his workshop into a shop after being accused by the police of street trading. An exponential growth period began in 1950 while Basilio opened a "Laboratoroire de Pralines” (Laboratory of Chocolates) at 20 Vieux Marché aux Grains. He also opened a tea-room in Blankenberge. The first store outside Belgium opened in Lille, France in 1969. The brand eventually goes international selling in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Holland, at Harrods in London and even in Athens. The New York store opened in 1991.
Name and symbol
In 1937, Basilio protects his product with the brand and logo of Leonidas. The company was named after its founder. More specifically, the name and design of the symbol originate from the marble statue in the Sparta Museum entitled Leonidas, in which the Greek hero-king of Sparta is depicted. The tone of the physical appearance of the boxed chocolate was described as “no nonsense packaging with a daunting logo. The symbol serves as evidence that indeed Spartan myth is a key element in European and Western culture traditions.
In 1922, the rest of Leonidas’ family moved to Ghent partially due to political events in Greece. Among them was Leonidas’ 19-year-old nephew, Basilio, who inherited his uncle’s trade after they developed a father-son relationship. Basilio was known for being business savvy. Leonidas died in 1948 and left the business to him. Basilio died on April 2, 1970, and his brothers and sisters become heirs to the Belgian chocolate company. It was also listed on stock exchange in 1970 although family still played a role in its administration. Jean Kesdekoglu-Kestekides administered the business from 1970 to 1985 and wanted to protect the difference between his company and those of Americans. In 1985, Maria Kesdekoglu-Kestekides takes over the company when her father dies. Her brother Dimitrios Kestekoglou and their German cousin Vassiliki Kestekidou join her in maintaining the business.
Product and store details
Leonidas is one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world. Until 1966, a kilogram of chocolate could be bought for USD 3.30 (approximately EUR 2.50) as opposed to the price of EUR 25.00 per kilogram of chocolate in 2014. In 1983, Leonidas made the most filled chocolates of the Belgian chocolate producers and did not export past London. The fresh butter and cream used in Leonidas chocolate makes them expire faster and more difficult to export. When preservatives were added to the product, the freshest dairy cream was no longer usable. Still, Leonidas chocolate must be eaten within 49 days in average, which is six weeks minus transportation depending if it is cream based, contains alcohol or is foil wrapped or ganache (ganache lasts longer than 60 days). Despite its growth as a company, Leonidas is well-respected and still Belgian. The goods are made in an old plant not far from Brussels and flown at low temp to far stores in locations like Chicago and New York City. The old Crown-Baele factory at 41-43 Graindor Boulevard in Anderlecht remains the company headquarters. In 1993, the Rue au Beurre shop was opened. It is the largest Leonidas shop in the world with a staff of 20. In 2012, Leonidas has 350 shops in Belgium and nearly 1,250 stores in around 50 countries including 340 in France. Some Leonidas stores include a half-open counter to sell pralines to passersby. The company has always promoted the motto, “democracy in chocolate.” Marie Douailly, a French-born representative of Leonidas in Chicago, explains, “Our philosophy is still that you shouldn’t have to be rich to enjoy really good chocolate.” 
Criticism and competition
Some smaller, more traditional Belgian chocolate makers become uneasy when the larger Belgian chocolate companies such as Godiva, Neuhaus, and Leonidas are mentioned. They feel as if those companies have drifted too far away from the artisan-ship of chocolate making. They question the legitimacy of the chocolate in larger companies because larger firms have changed its culture.
It is a well-known, specialty brand. The company especially strives to keep its chocolate accessible for the middle class. Nevertheless, celebrities have shown significant interest in the chocolate brand. Michelle Vanlochem of Leonidas Chocolates in Los Angeles was seen wrapping presents filled with Leonidas confections for Emmy winners Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Frasier's" David Hyde Pierce. The celebrity favorite treats are known to be milk chocolate with a fresh banana cream center, fruit jellies, and dark chocolate with fresh vanilla cream. Vanlochem assures, “The candies are shipped in fresh every week from Belgium and have a large celebrity following. They won't be disappointed with anything they eat, I promise!"
- Belgian chocolate
- Cocoa beans
- Godiva Chocolatier
- Neuhaus (chocolatier)
- Paul Cartledge
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