Chocolatier who fled Syrian war to open factory in Hungary

The Hungarian government contributed 5 million euros and a tax subsidy. The factory will give jobs to 540 people and produce about 7,500 tons of chocolate per year

A chocolatier who fled Syria during the war is expanding his business in Hungary, it has been revealed.

According to Reuters, Bassam Ghraoui’s Syrian confectionary became synonymous with the finest gourmet chocolates anywhere before war decimated his business, and he is starting anew with a factory to be launched next year.

“It is a project which will put Hungary on the map of higher-than-average EU exporters of chocolate,” Ghraoui, 62, told Reuters.

Ghraoui, scion of one of the oldest Damascus merchant families with business dating back to 1805, says he always had a “soft spot” for the Central European nation where he has been doing some non-sweets business since the early 1990s.

About three years ago, after Syria’s civil war erupted, he acquired Hungarian citizenship and bought a house in Budapest, moving with his family there in August 2015. “Yes, I am Hungarian and, give me time, I will speak Hungarian,” he said.

Ghraoui’s confectionary gained global renown; it won the “Prix Spécial d’Honneur” at the Salon du Chocolat trade fair in Paris in 2005. But Syria’s war slashed production at his factory in a Damascus suburb to less than 0.5 percent of its peacetime level.

His new chocolate factory is taking shape in the town of Hatvan, about 60 km (40 miles) east of Budapest, and will become operational towards the end of 2017, giving jobs to 540 people and producing about 7,500 tons of chocolate per year.

He and three other companies invested around 25 million euros ($26.14 million) in the factory and the Hungarian government contributed 5 million euros and a tax subsidy.