Confectioner Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir is the oldest known company in Turkey. Also, one of the oldest brands in the world, invented world-famous brand of Turkish Delight with its innovation and taste that hasn’t changed for 2.5 centuries. Haci Bekir continues to sweeten the mouths with more than 100 varieties.
The confectioner Hacı Bekir Efendi, who came to Istanbul from the Araba district of Kastamonu. Haci Bekir started to manufacture and sell confectionery such as Turkish delight and akide in the small candy store he opened in Bahçekapı in 1777. After fulfilling his pilgrimage in 1817-1820’s, company has a past of nearly 2.5 centuries today.
Bekir Efendi produced today’s Turkish delight with the combination of sugar and starch. He used the starch found by the German scientist Kirchhoff in 1811, instead of flour, developed Turkish confectionery and Turkish delight varieties with his own manufacturing and precision works. When the fame of Akide and Turkish delights reached the Ottoman palace, Hacı Bekir Efendi was awarded the title of confectioner of the palace by the founder of the modern Ottoman, the innovative sultan Mahmud II, with the 1st Rank Order of Nişan-ı Ali Osmani. The confectionery of the palace started to be bought from Hacı Bekir Efendi’s workshop.
Haci Bekir settled in culture and tradition as a part of Turkish-Ottoman society and history. Took part in novels and articles that documented the lifestyle of the time. It was written by foreign artists who were parts of the Istanbul mosaic of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And even Amadeo from Malta, one of the famous painters of the period. Painted with a Preziosi brush. The lithographic reproduction of the 43×58 cm watercolor painting depicting the life of the time and Hacı Bekir Efendi. The original of which is in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is on display at the Topkapı Palace at number 214.
Following the death of Hacı Bekir Efendi, first his son Mehmed Muhiddin Efendi, and after his death, his grandson Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir took over the business. As they continued the business with the same principle, talent and love of profession, the title of confectioner of the palace continued with them from father to son. Mehmed Muhiddin Efendi, who was assigned by the palace to promote Ottoman confectionery at the fair held in Vienna in 1873 under the patronage of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph, returned with a silver medal given by the fair commission. Observing that all western country participants used a brand at the fair, Mehmed Muhiddin Efendi created the first brand of the Ottoman Empire and his company with the silver medal he won on his return home.
As a result of Hacı Bekir Efendi’s British customer offering the Turkish delight with his nickname in his country, Turkish delight is known as “Turkish Delight” in English-speaking countries and throughout the world, and “Lokoum” in France and the Balkans. The interest and fame that Hacı Bekir Efendi brought to the present day with almond candies made in shake cauldrons, boiled almonds peeled and pounded in mortars, kneaded with sugar and sugar syrup, and shaped by various marzipans, are now being conveyed to various parts of the world by the youngest members of the family. .
Leyla Celalyan, the 6th generation member of the family, reminded that the company founded in 1777 started in Eminönü, the commercial center of the period. And realized that starch and refined sugar were used in European cities where her great-grandfather Bekir Efendi went to promote Ottoman culture abroad. He explained that he had innovated even in the past. Celalyan said that after Bekir Efendi’s return, he took what he learned and added these new innovations to the Turkish delight recipe made with molasses and honey for centuries. And produced Turkish delight with a light elastic texture in cube form, which is now eaten.
At this point, Celalyan stated that they have increased over 30 types of Turkish delight. 15 pieces of ice cream, candies and pastes, and over 100 product types. She stated that in addition to the advantages, there are also responsibilities that it imposes on them. Pointing out that they are the oldest family company in Turkey to date. Celalyan said: “What did our elders do in the absence of technology, what conditions did they do. When you think about this, it is a burden on one’s shoulders.
This is a sweet responsibility, of course. The pleasure it brings when it succeeds.” It gets much higher, this is what motivates us. A young family member has no difficulty in adapting to the company. Since both me and my brother have been involved in this company culture, shops and products from a young age. We have adapted to what is happening in the world here. We aim to create better service and taste and move forward in this way.”
Leyla Celalyan stated that they never thought of selling the company despite important offers. “This is a much bigger thing for us than a business. It’s a part of our family, a part of us. We think this should be with us. I hope the conditions and feelings for future generations remains the same.” she said. Touching on the secrets of being a century-old company, Celalyan emphasized that it is very important not to deviate from the quality standard and essence. Celalyan continued: “Of course, the need of the time, changing conditions, changing trends must be adapted to the business, somehow. But the identity of the company must definitely be preserved.
The companies that have survived to this day are probably coming by doing this. The basis of sustainability is staying true to its essence. Also for our employees. We are very lucky. For example, we have a 65-year-old Master Seyfi. He probably joined this company at the age of 14-15. He works with the same enthusiasm and motivation as on the first day. Maybe he owns this place more than any of us. The master-foreman relationship that started with Bekir Efendi has survived until today. “We are very lucky in this regard. A few members of a family grew up here, produced, learned the job. Became a part of this culture even if they went to another place or returned to their hometown. They both learned something and added something to us.”
Celalyan is from the 6th generation of the family. She stated that they see the customers as a part of the family and customers from all generations bring their children and grandchildren with them. People who came with their grandparents now bring their grandchildren. And the traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Stating that they do not want to stray from tradition while adapting to changing conditions, Celalyan said:
“Today, machines have also entered our production. But we never apply a condition such as ‘it will boil for 20 minutes in a machine and pour it out’. Boiling for 20 minutes is checked, but the master always controls it. Raw material changes, temperature conditions change. But ther wouldnt be a full standardization. It is always made according to our own recipe, and the waiting is done in this way. We never take the product from the tray without waiting. Just like, ‘Our product is finished, let’s take out the product immediately.’ Although new things come to production.
We do everything to preserve the taste of our product on the first day. We are adding new flavors and new methods. For example, sugar is one of the most important issues of our day. People’s eating habits are changing, but there are also people with diabetes. We started to produce Turkish delight with no added sugar and sweetener for them.”
Leyla Celalyan stated that they produce different flavors and varieties to appeal to the youth. They offer products with mint-lemon flavor such as “two in one”, and that they use sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. They source 99 percent of the materials from Turkey. Emphasizing that they have recently experienced a significant acceleration in online sales, Celalyan said that there is an increasing demand for products among young people as well. Noting that their sales have increased on special days, Celalyan said. “The festive weather comes to us a month in advance. We are very pleased with this. Demands are also increasing at New Year’s Eve. We also offer special products and campaigns to our customers on special days.”
Mehmet Usta, who has been working in Hacı Bekir since 2002, stated that tourists show great interest in the products. And said that Middle Eastern and European tourists have been doing good shopping recently. Mehmet Usta said: “Tourists who come to Turkey definitely stop by us when they come to Eminönü. Product preferences vary according to their country. Middle Eastern tourists mostly prefer walnut, pomegranate-pistachio, hazelnut delights. French and English customers choose more fruity delights. “Turks love all kinds. Our Akide candies are one of our oldest products. Our sales in Akide are quite good at the moment. We have 16-17 kinds of Akide. Turkish people are very attached to their traditions.”