Leonidas Kestekides: the Greek pastry chef who conquered the world

The history of the world famous Leonidas chocolates and pralines is as rich as the confectionery itself.

It all started with the Greek chocolatier Leonidas Kestekides, who created great pastries because in the end he just “wanted to sow a little bit of happiness.”

The noble name of irresistible chocolates comes from Leonidas Kestekides, a young pastry chef born in the Cappadocia region of Asia Minor in 1876. At the age of 17, Kestekides emigrated to the United States, where he quickly mastered the art of making chocolate. Upon arrival, he started working as a chocolate maker in New York and stayed there for five years. In 1898, Leonid moved to Paris, where he practiced the subtle art of making chocolate for another ten years.

Leonidas Kestekides’ chocolates on display at the World’s Fair

In 1910, he went to the World’s Fair in Brussels, where his chocolate confectionery won a bronze prize. Three years later, he went to Belgium again for the World’s Fair in Ghent. While there, he married Jeanne Emilia Terlink and eventually stayed in the village forever.

Kestekides opened his first tea shop in 1910 in Ghent, where, in addition to tea, he served his already famous chocolates. More tea shops followed in Brussels and Blankenberg and thus Leonidas’ chocolate empire was born. Kestekides said after his chocolates became as legendary as the great Spartan warrior on the trademark, “I didn’t do it for the money. I didn’t do it for the glory. I did it because I wanted to sow some happiness. “

In 1922, due to political upheavals in Greece after disaster in Smyrna, Kestekida’s nephew Vasilis moved to Ghent to live with his uncle. Then Leonid took on the task of teaching Vasilis the fine confectionery art. These two complemented each other perfectly: one was a born salesman and the other a creative person. Together they have created delicious pralines for an ever-growing market.

Vasilis made it his personal mission to further expand his uncle’s business. In 1935 he moved to the Belgian capital Brussels and walked the streets selling pralines to his uncle Leonidas. After getting into trouble with the police, he decided to open his own store.

Vasilis’s first store was so small that it didn’t even have a door. In fact, it was just a glass window with a narrow corridor.

This marked the start of sales through the sliding sash window, which later became the Leonidas Chocolates trademark. In a completely unique version, chocolates were made right in front of a potential buyer.

Leonidas’ chocolate empire

In 1937, Vasilis finally decided to officially register the popular family-owned chocolates under the trademark. He honored his uncle by immortalizing his name and placed the image of the Greek warrior Leonidas on the logo. The name Leonid was registered in Brussels.

Leonidas Pralines even survived World War II, when Vasilis somehow (clearly smuggled) found sources to buy cocoa and made chocolate himself. However, according to the official version, he prepared in advance such large reserves of sugar and cocoa, and supposedly he had enough of them to support production throughout the war.

At that time, Leonidas’ praline was not the stupid and trifling pleasure it could have been in pre-war times. They were made especially for children, because they contained cream and sugar, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, which were very scarce during the war years.

After that, Leonidas Kestekides began to leave the business, gradually opening the way for his beloved nephew Vasilis. He passed away in 1948.

Leonidas laid the foundations and Vasilis built the strong walls of Leonidas’ chocolate empire. Leonidas’ nephew retained his vision of creating luxury goods that everyone could afford. Vasilis moved the famous chocolate shop from 58 Anspach Boulevard to 46, which is still used by Leonidas. It has become a place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers.

The first Leonidas store outside Belgium opened in 1969 in Lille, France. The company then expanded to Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands, England, and then to Athens. Soon after, the famous pralines were introduced to the USA and Africa.

Vasilis Kestekides died in 1970 when the company first entered the stock market. However, the family retained an important role in the management of the company. After his death, “Confiserie Leonidas” passed to the brothers and sisters of Vasilisa. Jean Kesdekoglu-Kestekides took over, and after a while his daughter Maria Kesdekoglu-Kestekides began to help her father.

Kestekides recipes are still used today

Since then, things have gone up in Leonidas’ confectionery empire. Production expanded and Confiserie Leonidas bought the old Crown-Baele factory in Anderlecht, Belgium, at Graindorlaan 41-43, where Leonidas is also headquartered. In 1980, Leonidas introduced white chocolate to his extensive delectable sweets menu. However, only a few of Leonidas Kestekides’ original recipes have changed over the years, and even then it was only done for practical purposes.

Leonidas continues to be made from the finest cocoa, and the fillings are made from selected ingredients such as fresh butter, fresh cream, Turkish hazelnuts, Morello cherries, Italian almonds, Grenoble walnuts and Valencia oranges.

The popularity of pralines was so great that until 1983 the Belgian government even limited their price, as they do for bread and milk, considering Leonid’s treats to be an absolute necessity for life.

In addition to the original recipes of Leonidas Kestekides, his successors have added new ingredients and products over the decades, and today stores offer a hundred different types of chocolate confectionery.

New inspiration has come from a variety of sources and is combined with original chocolate recipes to seduce with unique flavors all the way from Brussels to New York and from Paris to Hong Kong.

One of 8 stores in Athens

At the start of the new millennium, the company opened another plant in Anderlecht, Belgium to meet growing international demand as the US and Asian countries switched entirely to Leonidas pralines.

The largest store called Leonidas is located on Rue au Beurre in Brussels. Leonidas now has 350 stores in Belgium and over 1200 stores in fifty countries around the world, confirming that the spread of this delicious happiness has indeed been as successful as Kestekides hoped.

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