We do not only struggle with poor-quality food nowadays but so did Budapest in the era of the 1867 Compromise. Well, Buda and Pest did, to be precise, as this happened before the 1873 unification of the city. It was back then when a German confectioner turned up and set up Hungary’s first chocolate factory with the intent of helping Hungarians get rid of low-quality candies that might have been dangerous to health, reports Origo about Hungary’s oldest chocolate factory.
The experiment was so successful that not only Hungary but Europe as a whole have become familiar with his delicacies. The German confectioner had even been distinguished for his work by Emperor Franz Joseph. Read on to get to know the story of Frigyes Stühmer and the still-producing Stühmer Chocolate Factory.
If we want to get familiar with the history of the first Hungarian chocolate factory, we must start from the fact that chocolate in its present form was not known around the time of the Compromise. At best, people could encounter it as a rare drink because confectionaries used cocoa only as a flavouring. The sweets preceding chocolate were more like candies. These might have been quite unhealthy since some of the food colourings of the time were often toxic or harmful substances.
Stühmer succeeded where others could not
In 1866, Frigyes Stühmer, a young confectioner from Mecklenburg, moved to Pest thanks to the influence of his friend, Ferenc Nagy. Although Stühmer might have been young – he was only 23 years old –, he was not a newcomer to his profession since he studied the art of candy making at the renowned Schulze in Ludwigslust, Germany, and had worked in several chocolate factories in Hamburg and Prague.
After only two years of working at a rented space at 8 Autumn Street (today Szentkirályi), he established his own private company and purchased the space in 1868, and with it, the manufactory of Ferenc Nagy. He then proceeded to modernise it with steam-powered equipment imported from Dresden. According to the news of the time, the aim of the young master was to rid Hungarians of candies of poor quality, containing hazardous substances.
Stühmer laid down the foundations for the large-scale production and sale of sweets in Hungary.
For example, at that time, it was not usual for a company to set up its own brand store network in the country. Although success did not come at once, after 11 years of hard work and continuous improvement, Frigyes Stühmer participated in a national fair in Székesfehérvár in 1879. He was able to win the gold medal and the emperor, József Ferenc, recognised the craftsman’s persistent, steady work and achievements in the development of the industry by rewarding him with a crowned gold cross of merit. After that, orders for Stühmer’s product skyrocketed, and the volume of production increased.
It was only then, 17 years after Frigyes Stühmer’s arrival in Hungary, that chocolate as we know it today debuted in Hungary. It was also the time when the country’s first steam-powered candy and chocolate factory opened. In 1883, the factory was already producing candies, chocolate bars, cocoa powder, nougat, pralines, and bonbons that were among the best of Europe. In the 1880s, Stühmer shops popped up throughout the country and in major European cities, where delicious sweets were available to purchase in beautiful and elaborate boxes.
Certainly, many more successes and innovations would have characterised Stühmer’s life, but unfortunately, his body could not withstand the strained pace of work due to the company’s rapid expansion, so the father of the chocolate factory died in Budapest on May 11th in 1890, at the age of 46.
The Stühmer chocolate factory endured the hardships of the 20th century
Fortunately, however, the factory developed further. After the founder’s death, the company was first taken over by his widow, Etelka Koob, and her brother, Géza Koob. From 1910, the younger son of Frigyes, Dr Géza Stühmer, took over the company, who, until the Second World War, further expanded his family’s business. However, this was no longer a fortunate period: by the 1920s, the company was in an extremely bad situation due to a shortage of raw materials caused by World War I, a fall in demand, unfortunate fatalities in the factory, and the terror of the Soviet Union. Only the ingenuity of the owners saved the factory from bankruptcy who developed a completely new product range and entrusted the design of the packages to such world-renowned artists as Kató Lukáts, Gitta Mallász, Ilona Szirmai, or Ernő Jeges.
In 1928 the company became a public limited company. By then, Stühmer products were known both in Hungary and abroad for their high quality and artistic design.
During this period, several products that are still popular today were manufactured in the factory. Of these, Tibi chocolate, which was first produced in 1941, is worth mentioning. The bar of chocolate was named after Frigyes Stühmer’s great-grandson, Tibor Stühmer, and although it was aimed at children – hence the handwritten and lowercase “tibi” inscription, which is still unchanged today –, it quickly became popular among adults as well.
In the meantime, a five-storey factory was built on the old plot of Szentkirályi Street, which also served as the company’s headquarters. However, the business outgrew the building, so the family bought a factory on Vágóhíd Street, where they then moved. It was already a much larger and more modern factory, and by the time it was completed in 1941, it had gained wide international recognition in the industry.
Then, as with so many Hungarian success stories, the Stühmer factory ended with the nationalisation of 1948. Part of the Stühmer family fled abroad, the popular sweets production was taken over by the state, and the factory was renamed Budapest Chocolate Factory.
For those who have sweet teeth out there, you can read about more famous Hungarian desserts with chocolate here. And those of you who are also curious in nature, let me introduce you to the legendary Túró Rudi.
The return of the Stühmer family to Hungary
More than four decades later, the change of regime came. As life returned to the business world, the Canadian descendants of the original owners tried to buy back the family business. However, this was unsuccessful. The factory at Vágóhíd Street was owned by Stollwerck, then in 2002, by Bonbonetti Choco Kft. To this day, confectioneries, including several original Stühmer products, are still being manufactured on Vágóhíd Street.
The Stühmer brand, however, was acquired in the 1980s by a small company in Eger that sold sweets under that name. This was used by the descendants of the Stühmer family who bought the name back and started to manufacture the original Stühmer products. This era is connected to Péter Csóll, a former actor, who, after the purchase of the Stühmer sweet shop in Eger in 2004, decided to revive the once-world-famous brand. Later, in 2006, the domestic production of the legendary sweets began again under the name of Stühmer.
As a result, handmade cherry cognac bonbons, milk chocolate bars, whole hazelnut milk chocolate bars, dark chocolate bars, and dark chocolate with candied orange pieces were produced in Hungary once more. Confectioner Béla Borbély – who is referred to as the “chocolate guru” in his trade – helped Péter Csóll to recreate the real nostalgic flavours. Béla Borbély had visited the Stühmer plant many times at a young age, and he even remembered the original recipe of the legendary Corfu slice by heart.
In January 2008, the chocolate factory of Stühmer Ltd. was completed in Novaj, so nostalgic products such as Gold dessert, Silver dessert, Daisy dessert, Stühmer Rose, Corfu slice, Montenegro slice, Julika, Granite cubes have since been manufactured and then shipped to the stores’ shelves from there. The famous Melody Slice, which was born at the Szerencs Chocolate Factory, has also been produced here since 2009.
However, the history of the Stühmer Chocolate Factory still does not end here, as, in July 2014, a state-of-the-art production plant was opened in Maklár. At the same time, the first confectionery of the company was opened in the building of the factory, and the establishment of the first Chocolate Tasting Club in Hungary happened the same year.
In 2017, Stühmer entered a new area: Cremeria, an ice cream company, opened, and since 2018, the company has been making cakes at its new confectionery.
In the meantime, the company has started to expand nationwide. Besides Eger, in the downtowns of Gyöngyös and Kecskemét, as well as in three locations in Budapest, the company’s stores are awaiting customers. While some of the Stühmer products are still based on the original recipes as a nostalgia product, most of them are made by a modern product development team.