When Mary Delluc opened a chocolaterie at 129 rue Royale in Brussels in 1919 (quickly followed by a tea room) could she have imagined that a century later, she would still be one of the leading names in high-end chocolate?
The answer is almost certainly not.
But Mary’s “sweet smell of success” and her delicious creations live on today at the shop which is named after her and which has just celebrated a key milestone – its 100th anniversary.
Mary’s creation has stood the test of time and firmly established its founder’s reputation. In 1942, the company was granted a Royal Warrant, a privilege that has been renewed three times since then, by King Baudouin I in 1990, by King Albert II in 1994 and by Philippe I in 2013.
Without losing sight of its traditional values, it has diversified and now, besides the delectable chocolate pralines, it offers truffles, salted caramels, caraques, orangettes and citronnettes, mendiants, candied toasted almonds, chocolate-coated coffee beans, cocoa and much more.
Mary used only the very best ingredients and crafts its chocolates artisanally to achieve perfectly balanced flavours, aromas and textures. Her success was partly due to her customers, who told her about their preferences. Mary took note, worked out the recipes, refined them and created some real gems. She also designed the packaging – enchanting chocolate and sweet boxes in all shapes and sizes, which soon became coveted collectors’ items. The elegant, sophisticated shop displays were – as today – no less enticing.
Mary was a spinster with no children and, when she died in 1961, the business was effectively left to her employees.
Over the years the company has had several owners, all of whom have remained true to the spirit of its founder. But in 2009 it received a new lease of life, when businessman Olivier Borgerhoff took over. To showcase the founder’s signature style, Borgerhoff created a network of Art Deco boutiques with elegant designs centred around white and gold, iridescent glass and pleats.
They are a big success, so the company has had to move its offices and production unit from the Arsenal, in Etterbeek, to more spacious premises in Ganshoren. Belgium boasts eight Mary shops, in Antwerp, Brussels (four), Bruges and La Hulpe. Further afield, there are branches in the Middle East, Chicago (United States) and Kyoto (Japan), where the product is sold under the brand name ‘Madame Delluc’. Forty departments stores also sell Mary’s sweet treats. The brand has also launched an online shop too.
It’s celebrating its 100th anniversary with a special treat: a creamy praline that combines a white chocolate and mascarpone mousse with a cappuccino ganache, all coated with rich dark chocolate,.
Another anniversary special is the platinum-coloured box – a real treasure chest – featuring all the little characters that have symbolised Mary throughout the years. The box is wrapped in a scarf folded in the famous Japanese Furoshiki style.
Speaking to this website, Borgerhoff said the business, the second oldest chocolatier in Belgium, still strives to uphold Mary’s “three core values”: excellence, quality and tradition.
“These,” he said, “are the foundation on which this business has been built.”
A former banker from a family of entrepreneurs, Borgerhoff has expanded the business which now employs 40 people. He said it was “always my dream” – even from the tender age of 12 – to one day own a chocolate making business.
Having achieved one dream Olivier, now 48, also achieved a second one – having a Mary’s shop on the Brussels’ world famous Grand Place – a couple of years ago. It is open every day of the year, from 10am to 10pm, 7/7.
It is the last of the shops to open in Brussels and Olivier is determined to keep the great Belgian chocolate tradition going even in the face of ever growing competition.
The Belgian said, “The key is to keep it ‘exclusive’ and sell only to our own network. This is our plan and we will stick to it.”