A real chocolate revolution
Discover the great history at the origins of the famous Leonidas chocolates. From Greece to Belgium, via the United States, the main theme has always been passion, perseverance and ingenuity. These efforts and a talent that have been substantially rewarded, since the Leonidas firm is now renowned around the world.
For more than a century, giving has been making people happy.
Over 100 years ago, Leonidas Kestekides first started working on our praline as we know it today. For four generations the Kestekides family made its mark on Leonidas, making this brand a real family business. What started out life as a single shop with a sliding sash window, where pralines were displayed on the window sill, has evolved into an international brand experience with more than 1200 shops. Now, everyone enjoys the delicious Leonidas creations. Read all about this chocolate revolution here.
Sweet temptations as a way to survive
Anatolia Leonidas Georges Kestekides was born in Nigde, Turkey.
Back then, nobody knew that Leonidas Kestekides would become someone who follows his heart and realises his dreams. It all started when he was still young and took to the streets with his brother Avraam to sell granita and other sweets. At that time, Leonidas and his brother lived in a politically and economically unstable region and they sold these sweets to survive.
Granita, wine and the promised land
At the age of 18, the ambitious Greek exchanged the granita for wine and started selling it in la bella Italia.
But that didn’t really work out for him. One of the lorries that was transporting a lot of his wine barrels, without insurance, was involved in an accident. Leonidas Kestekides was financially ruined, but he didn’t give up. His ambition got the better of him again and he crossed the pond to the United States.
He went off in search of his American Dream, and hoped to make his fortune in the Promised Land. Here he learned the tricks of the trade of the thing he was most passionate about, and he became a confectioner.
Love takes him from New York to Ghent
But how did this talented Greek end up in Belgium? Ten years later, in 1910, Leonidas Kestekides participated in the World Exhibition in Brussels as a member of the Greek-American delegation.
He presented his confectionery and patisserie creations to around thirteen million visitors. His efforts were rewarded: Leonidas was awarded the bronze medal, designed by Godefroid Devreese. His success didn’t go unnoticed. All eyes were on Leonidas Kestekides, especially those of a particular Brussels beauty, Joanna Emelia Teerlinck. Could she not resist his sweet delicacies? Or could he not resist her slim figure and porcelain skin? Leonidas and Joanna married in 1912 and Ghent became his new home.
His own tearoom and gold
In 1913 Leonidas Kestekides made another appearance at the World Exhibition, this time in Ghent.
After he proudly presented his new creations to the visitors, on 27 October he was awarded the gold medal and a commemorative certificate. 1913 was a successful year for Leonidas. He opened his first tearoom at Veldstraat 34 in Ghent. Together with Joanna, he spoiled his guests with patisserie, confectionery, sweets and ice cream.
When the Germans invaded in 1918, Leonidas temporarily closed. But he noticed that the bourgeoisie still wanted to enjoy life's little pleasures... and his comeback was better than ever. In addition to his tearoom in Ghent, he opened a ‘tasting room and cold buffet’ in Blankenberge. The coastal town was very popular among the bourgeoisie at that time due to its trendy shops and casino. The second Leonidas tearoom was located in the renowned Lion d’Or hotel.
The arrival of Basilio Kestekides
While Leonidas celebrated his success with Joanna in Belgium, the political situation in Greece deteriorated.
Rumours of Leonidas’s success made their way to his homeland and the Kestekides family decided to move to Ghent. Leonidas’s family did their bit for the brand, especially his nephew Basilio. Leonidas taught Basilio how to be a confectioner. The two complemented each other perfectly: one was a born salesman and the other was a creative spirit. They developed a father-son relationship and created a range of delicious pralines.
Conquering the capital
After Leonidas conquered the hearts of Ghent and Blankenberge, he decided it was high time to embrace Brussels.
By this time, his Greek family was taking care of the shop in Ghent. Leonidas and Basilio opened a new tearoom on the Rue Paul Delvaux in Brussels: the ‘Pâtisserie Centrale Leonidas’. Together they worked hard to establish the Leonidas brand in our capital.
The Leonidas trademark: the sliding sash window
Basilio and Leonidas were welcomed to Brussels with open arms. At night Basilio prepared his delicious pralines in a small workshop near the Grand-Place, and in the morning he crossed through the city with a horse and cart to sell his delights to a loyal clientele.
Everything was running smoothly until Basilio got into trouble for street trading – the police told Basilio that he had to sell his products in a shop. Basilio rented a room in a building at Boulevard Anspach 58, which was small and narrow and didn’t even have a door onto the main street. But Basilio wouldn’t be Basilio if he didn’t have a solution. He displayed his delicious pralines on the window sill and sold them from the sliding sash window to passers-by – a revolutionary idea! Basilio sold up to 35 kg of confectionery a day directly from the production workshop to the counter, without losing any of the freshness or time – and at half of the price of his competitors.
This was the start of selling through a sliding sash window, which later became the trademark of Leonidas.
Basilio came up with the brand name and logo for his uncle. He gradually started to take over all the hard work and management of the company. In 1937 he registered the name Leonidas with the city of Brussels.
He named it after his uncle and decided that the logo should be the Greek warrior Leonidas, in honour of his uncle. This marks the birth of the logo as we know it today.
A luxury product for everyone
Leonidas also survived the Second World War. Basilio bought the cocoa and made his own chocolate. Leonidas became synonymous with success. On 20 February 1948, fate knocked on the door: Leonidas Kestekides died. Despite this loss, Basilio was determined to make a luxury product available to everyone.
Growing demand for Leonidas chocolates was anticipated by Basilio, who in 1950 asked for help from his younger brother Alexandros Kestekidis, the father of the current CEO, Vasiliki, who settled in Belgium with his wife Hélèni. Occasionally, Basilio also had the help of his older brother Jean-Yani Kestekoglou, father of Mrs Maria and Mr Dimitrios, in building the reputation of the Leonidas brand as we are familiar with it today. They began by enlarging the workshop and increasing production of chocolates. This decision was intended to keep the prices low, which required an increase in production.
Alexandros Kestekidis made the tools to shape the marzipan fruits, which are still used today. He also took charge of developing new, small machines so that they would no longer have to make the chocolates manually. These machines also paved the way to the creation of new flavours, thus enlarging the range of chocolates available. Basilio had moved to no. 46 Boulevard Anspach, a larger space where there is still a Leonidas store today.
100 grams? 10 francs!
In Brussels they couldn’t get enough of Basilio’s traditional pralines. The pralines were of an exceptional quality for such an affordable price. Back then, for a 100-gram bag you paid no more than 10 francs (or 25 euro cents!) Many entrepreneurs started to knock on Leonidas’s door and soon dozens more shops were opened.
On 2 April 1970, Basilio died. His brothers Alexandros and Jean-Yani then created the company ‘Confiserie Leonidas SPRL’. After Basilio’s death, Alexandros asked Jean-Yani Kestekoglou to take charge of managing the company, a role he would hold until 1985. He was assisted by his eldest nephew, Yanni, the son of their sister. From the death of Basilio in 1970 until his own death in 1999, Alexandros served as CEO of Leonidas and continued to seek out new flavours.
Jean-Yani’s main objective was to expand the presence of Leonidas stores beyond Belgium, such as in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France. Once you have tasted Leonidas’ chocolates, there’s no going back. The chocolate is so fine that it seduces everyone’s taste buds. Production capacity expanded and the Confiserie Leonidas SA bought the former Crown-Baele factory in Anderlecht, at Boulevard Graindor 41-43, which is still the company’s head office.
The arrival of the one true Manon
Famous, worshiped, loved, desired. The Manon we know and love today is a one of a kind. But how did it come about? The Manon originally consisted of nougatine and a walnut enveloped in a layer of sugar. Yanni Kesdekoglou, one of Leonidas’s family members, changed the recipe.
Yanni created a world first with this new recipe. He had the genius idea of replacing the melted sugar with white chocolate. At that time, nowhere else in the world were pralines being made with white chocolate. The walnut was then replaced by a hazelnut because you can toast it. This made it easier to store them for longer. Finally, he replaced the nougatine with the well-known buttercream. This new recipe transformed the Manon into the praline that we love so much.
Until 1983 the price of Leonidas pralines was capped by the Belgian government – just like bread and milk prices. This is because Leonidas chocolates were considered a basic need.
The price of success
Production continued to increase, but Leonidas achieved something exceptional: it sent out the message to interested persons not to ask to open any new stores, as production could no longer keep up. This attested to the growing popularity of Leonidas products and the wish to maintain the quality despite significant demand.
In 1985, Jean-Yani Kestekoglou decided, for health reasons, to withdraw from managing the company, making way for the third generation to take up the torch. It was his daughter, Maria Kesdekoglu-Kestekides who took over the company with her first cousin Yanni. She would be joined in 1992 by her first cousin, Vasiliki Kestekidou, in managing the company. Subsequently, Mrs Maria’s brother, Mr Dimitrios Kestekoglou, decided in 2004 to join them in managing the company, thereby putting an end to his career as an ophthalmologist, in order to help contribute to assuring the continuity of this great legacy. At the beginning of 2004, he took charge as managing director of managing Leonidas with a view to preparing the transition from a family firm to professional management. In 2005, upon his suggestion, an internal audit committee, assisted by an internal auditor, was created for the first time and Dimitrios became a member. He served as chairman of the board in 2004, 2006, 2008 and from 2011 to 2014.
Currently, Mrs Maria, CEO Vasiliki and Mr Dimitrios are all members of the Board of Directors of Leonidas, and their children are preparing to take up the baton.
Leonidas goes international
To be able to keep up with demand, Leonidas had to expand its factory. Pralines were now also produced in the old Bel cheese factory in the Kommenstraat in Anderlecht. By then, Leonidas pralines were also sold in the United States and Asia.
Leonidas became the market leader and entrepreneurs came to Anderlecht from far and wide to get their load of pralines. The pralines were (and still are) made in line with Basilio’s values: freshness, quality, choice and affordability.
A new design
All Leonidas shops were given a new look. The sliding sash window was replaced by a new style that was rolled out all over the world. For the interior, Leonidas decided to use colours which mirror the authenticity and values of the brand.
The colour scheme is warm and harmonious, reflects quality, expertise, experience and authenticity. Whether you buy pralines in a Leonidas shop in Brussels, New York or Paris, you’ll always feel as though you’re being greeted in the same boutique, in a modern and cosy atmosphere.
A match made in heaven
Coffee and pralines, the perfect combo. So in 2005 the first Leonidas Chocolates & Cafés opened in Brussels. This concept has since been rolled out all over the world, and you can enjoy delicious coffee, traditional chocolate and creamy chocolate milk.
Announced as purveyor to the royal household
On 15 November 2013 King Philippe of Belgium announced his list of certified purveyors to the royal household. Leonidas was awarded a place on this list for its exceptional quality and affordable prices. It’s a great honour, and recognition of the perseverance and hard work of everyone who has been part of the development of the Leonidas brand. Were there any other remarkable events after 2013?
Since October 2021, Leonidas has been using sustainable cocoa to produce its chocolates. A transition that makes perfect sense, given that since 1913 we have been striving to create moments of happiness for everyone with chocolate. Thanks to this certification, the living and working conditions of 2450 cocoa growers and their families have been improved.
By supporting a fair and stable wage for the growers, Leonidas participates in its own way in building a better world for humanity and the planet. And to give even greater delight and because Leonidas wants its chocolates to be accessible to everyone Leonidas bears all costs generated by this commitment to sustainable cocoa without raising the retail prices.
A family history
Since his arrival at the family company in 2004, Mr Dimitrios had dreamt of building a new factory in order to meet future needs and ensure the long-term future of the company. It was not until 12 December 2023 that construction of the new factory, in Nivelles, began at last, with the laying of the first stone, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Leonidas.