C2GO: Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. In a way, I’m experiencing this at the moment. I am at the Vrsna Chocolate Factory, and wherever I look, I come across the most varied types of chocolate. From the darkest to the pink, from those with the dots of autonomous Dalmatian breed to the chocolates that are perfect souvenirs because they have the Amphitheater in Pula or Dubrovnik on the packaging, to truffles, praline, to chocolate with a window of sliced strawberries, lemongrass, mint and much more. All these extraordinarily interesting chocolates were designed and manufactured in the Reizl family in the city district of Zagreb, Sesvete. How did this chocolate story begin?
Fran Reizl: Chocolate is the long dream of my parents. After many years of waiting, the European Union opened a contest to get fundings. With fundings, it was much easier, to begin with, the realization of our Chocolate story. We had the luck, and we met people who invented excellent Belgian chocolate. It is historically the oldest company from Belgium that became our business partner. Everything went slowly and modestly without professional knowledge, but with great enthusiasm. Later, our great passion began to transform into knowledge through experience and practice, and it led us to other partners in Serbia, Slovenia…We currently have a wide range of products, and we plan to continue…
You can also succeed in Croatia when you believe in your dream. The thing is, you have to believe in your dream every day when you get up, and you have to go to bed with the same idea of realization.
C2GO: Courage, perseverance, faith, and a lot of work. There was also help from access funds available to everyone. Or almost everyone? Rarely have a vision and everything else needed for what looks like a movie today. I was mostly impressed by the souvenir story. I feel really good by just looking at this beautiful authentic souvenirs. This story is often mentioned when we talk of branding Croatia. How did you decide on this program?
Mirko Reizl: I came to study in Zagreb in 1980, and soon I met a lot of tourists and made friends with people mostly from the west. They complained that they often did not have souvenirs to bring when they came home, so I started to think about it. In the 1990s, when Croatia was formed, I felt that soon will be a boom and a lot of new inventions. Since I was studying a technical profession, I did not think I was going to deal with nutrition. One of the first ideas was to make a „Banska kugla“. My wife wanted it to be a „Grička kugla“. We traveled a lot and did some exploration. There were several production attempts that failed. After these unsuccessful attempts, funds from the European Union helped us. Since we already had a bunch of ideas and a son Fran who was finishing graphic design, he just kind of got involved in the story. We never pushed him; he just started living this idea. He made the design and so it all started…
C2GO: Where can we buy your chocolate?
Mirko Reizl: In Vrutak and Nama in Zagreb. Also, in many souvenir shops. Zagreb is well covered, and you can find them in the Dubrovnik Airport and souvenir shops in the larger towns of Croatia.
C2GO: What are the reactions? Are your chocolates compared to some chocolates from other countries? With Belgian, Swiss Chocolates?
Fran Reizl: Best reviews are visible on social networks. We opened something new and different. We do this in a specific way because Dad and I love our culture and history a lot, and we understand that there are many links that are incredibly connected with chocolate. Chocolate is a link to a lot of things you never would think of. For example, as France and Spain had their conquistadors in Latin America. When they found cocoa, they first went to Spain and France. At that time, the Croatian Regiment was operating in France as the protection of King Louis XIV. Zrinski was the leader of that army, and he certainly drank chocolate at that time because it was a high class. It is in our interest to unite and present something new and different. Our main thought is the joint quality of local and world production — Belgian and Swiss quality paired with Croatian quality of products. Croatian nut, hazelnut, lavender are something special, healthy and natural. We want to use all that people will recognize and appreciate it because chocolate is a very good medium. I had a chance two years ago to be with Mexicans at a Vienna school. They use chocolate, for example as a sauce with rice, a supplement of meat… It can also be mixed with colors, flowers, petals…
C2GO: It seems to me that many famous Croatian or regional confectioners may be tempted…
Fran Reizl: We may have the advantage of being a family story; we care about doing things and being very creative. The industry is doing top things, but our approach is quite different. We personally like Gold Chocolate. The raw material is called Gold Chocolate, and we have placed the Mirakul product on the market. We work with these special ingredients. These are fried cocoa seeds, chopped hazelnut, natural strawberries, with rose petals and different. We sell it well. It is important to note that this is hand-made chocolate, not industrial chocolate.
C2GO: You’ve mentioned Gold Chocolate. I’ve heard there is a great story behind it…
Fran Reizl: Our footballer Mateo Kovačić, when he came back from Russia, was all under great enthusiasm. We realized they did not win gold, but as if they were. Our pastor, after Mass, summoned the congregation to meet Mateo because he was a minister there. We checked with the Pastor if it was ok to make chocolate there and wait for him to come back. The pastor supported us, and we made him golden chocolate with silver shine. Mateo was thrilled, and we share a nice memory of 2018.
C2GO: My friend Ashley Colburn said that Croatia has three advantages. Food, food, and food. I see you have also decided on the food of the gods. Where do you get raw materials?
Fran Reizl: Currently, our supplier is from Belgium. It is a Belgian, Swiss, and Dutch companies. They had the advantage of colonialism. It originates most from the northeast, south America, and West Africa. This is a predominantly cocoa company with whom we work. South America is the leader, and West Africa follows with the quality of chocolate, although African is a bit dry.
C2GO: Did you go to any plantation or do you plan to go?
Fran Reizl: Not yet, but I have started to grow Cacao Indoors. It’s one of my dreams, and I still don’t know if it will come true. It is possible to grow cocoa in a greenhouse I was in Basel where cocoa is grown in greenhouses.
C2GO: What are the natural preconditions for cocoa growing?
Fran Reizl: It has to grow under a banana tree or some other palm plant, so it has enough shadow. It takes four years of constant temperature to a minimum of 25 and a maximum of 40 degrees. It is tropical, but it doesn’t tolerate the sun. The moist root, the shadow in the treetop. It takes four years under these conditions to grow its first fruits with the first being not good enough. The fourth generation of fruits is ready for frying.
C2GO: We were just talking about the cocoa-growing belt. Mayans used cocoa beans as a currency. Interestingly, it was worth more than gold dust, and then breeding was limited to remain equally valuable. They knew how to deal with chocolate. They have ensured that the currency does not weaken. Importantly, you’ve added value, color, and petals to your chocolate. You also added an identity that became a Croatian souvenir. Your chocolate certainly has some added value. Added value and souvenirs also have a price. What are the prices of souvenirs? What is your favorite product?
Fran Reizl: The set of tubes in the context of a souvenir is the most interesting. After that, “Dalmatiner.” The tube is specific because there are more types of chocolate and different flavors. You get truffles and chocolate tables inside, and it is a perfect souvenir and a mixture of famous Croatian tastes. After that, Dalmatiner as a brand that stands for itself. More affordable than the tube because it is only one chocolate but interesting because of the authentic dots. It is made of white chocolate with dark chocolate dots. The price of the tube is around 100 kunas, but inside you can find two types of chocolate and eight truffles. Hand-made. We had an interesting situation. Last year, Dad got samples of Ruby, and I did not know it for a year, and Dad was eating it all the time. I asked him why he did not tell us before. I went out to the car, and there were samples outside, and I found a sack of Ruby. There were two sacks because it was a small packaging. Small buttons of chocolate. Small dots that are later blended. I was thrilled because I had the opportunity to try it. When I tried, I said this was the best thing in the world! Cocoa, when opened, looks like a larger corncob. When it is opened, there is one another corn that has 50 seeds inside, and it smells like grapes. It is very soft that is incredible because cocoa is otherwise hard as a seed, but when it is natural, it is soft. It can be eaten. It’s delicious. Cocoa is a fruit, and it grows on the treetop. An interesting story with Ruby chocolate is that when the seed is halved in half and when it is opened, you can find seeds inside that have pink pigment and are really pink from the inside. It’s no chemistry, but with ten years of Ruby chocolate testing, the approach of drying this cocoa is different, so it doesn’t lose that pigment like it becomes brown in drying usually. So, Ruby is natural pink chocolate, and we were fortunate enough to be the first to order it in Croatia. I think we are the first to distribute it here, and with that, we have ranked Croatia among the top ten countries in the world in terms of food and chocolate.
C2GO: How is your chocolate represented in the European chocolate offer?
Mirko Reizl: So far we have been little represented, but we’ve just finished the webshop. Now we have final arrangements and conclusions about shipping. In this way, we will be more accessible, and our goal is, of course, to be physically at locations in Europe. We want to be branded as a Boutique Chocolatteria, and we want our customers to recognize the quality of our product. We exist a year and a half, so this is a process, and we have great expectations. Croatian emigrants greatly appreciate our products and recognize our chocolate story, and so far we were contacted by Australia and the USA. The lady ordered a lot of chocolate, and she wanted to see what the market was there or whether our chocolate could become a constant in Australia. The latest news is very interesting. Japan has discovered us, and we are currently negotiating a big business with them.
C2GO: By 17th-century Chocolate produced in Europe was reserved for the European elite. It was at that time that this dark treat had nutritional, healing, and aphrodisiac properties. Do you agree?
Fran Reizl: I do not know. We should go back to the 17th century because then the chocolate was only placed in medical circles. It should not have been used if it was not used as a medicine.
At that time, the chocolate was solely liquid; milk was added even though it was considered to ruin the chocolate flavor.
C2GO: I totally agree.
Fun fact: The recommendation is to eat 20 g of dark chocolate daily.
Andreja was in Vrsna and gained two kilos during this interview. 🙂