Thursday, March 13, 2014

The House that Rūta Built

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that Šiauliai has a wonderful little chocolate (they call it šokoladas here) museum, which has become one of our favorite places, and which I had been planning to highlight in a brief post.  But that was before we discovered that the history of Šiauliai’s chocolate factory is the history of modern Lithuania writ small, which is to say that a strong element of tragedy lies at its core.  The subject required a little research.

It turns out that Šiauliai had a chocolate genius, and his name was Antanas Gricevičius (1877-1949).  He started a candy company here 1913, just in time for World War I.  During the war, Mr. Gricevičius suspended his chocolate-making operations and took the family off to Saint Petersburg, where he undertook formal study of the science of confectionary making.  After the war, Mr. Gricevičius brought his family back to Šiauliai and undertook to revive his candy company.

And he did, though it took some time.  The brick building in the photo above is the Rūta Confectionary Plant that Mr. Gricevičius built in 1928-1929; it was designed by Kārlis Reisons, a celebrated architect of the time.  During the interwar period, when Mr. Gricevičius had over 100 employees turning out over 300 different types of candy, Rūta won numerous international awards for excellence and established itself as Lithuania’s premier candy company.  Click here to view a documentary film showing Mr. Gricevičius and his candy-making staff at the factory.

When the Red Army occupied Lithuania in 1940, Mr. Gricevičius’s business was seized by the state, and he was relieved of his duties as CEO.  In short order, he was charged by the authorities with embezzling company funds, charges of which he was just as quickly acquitted.  The Rūta website confirms that he died in 1949, but to learn more about this sorry episode of 20th century history, you have to visit the museum, and you have to pay close attention to the story related by the exhibits and English-language labels.

It turns out that after his factory was nationalized by the Soviets, Mrs. Gricevičius, whose name was Juzefa (1881-1970), and the couple’s youngest son, his father’s namesake, were bundled off to Siberia.  Back in Šiauliai, two grown sons emigrated, leaving a broken-hearted Mr. Gricevičius and daughter Marija to carry on as best they could.

The unlikely denouement of this story is that in 1993, following the successful reassertion of Lithuanian independence, the chocolate factory was returned to the Gricevičius family—specifically, to young Antanas, back from Siberia, and two grand-daughters—who undertook to upgrade the facility and modernize production techniques that had been allowed to languish under the Soviets.  The former factory buildings were renovated, and the chocolate museum opened in 2012.  It’s a fascinating place to spend an afternoon—and not just because of the chocolate, but for the lessons in family history, and European history, also.



  1. I hope there are free samples!

  2. Thanks for the contribution, Cascade. There are samples, but it's strictly one apiece each, as one of my kids used to say. But there's a gift shop on site and a café that serves up cocoa delicacies.