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Irresistible “Marlenka” or the phenomenon of the Armenian miracle in the Czech Republic

2016-06-08 12:04


Armenians have for centuries delighted and surprised the world by their vivid imagination, hard-working nature, flexible mindset and talent of creating constant values. Perhaps, there are few countries in the world where Armenians haven’t managed to shine thanks to their talent.


With its high quality and taste the Czech - Armenian brand “Marlenka” is the beautiful expression of the Armenian mind, talent, love and devotion. For already 13 years “Marlenka” enjoys respect and love in 38 countries of the world, upholding the Armenian name.


We’ve talked to President of “Miko International” company, owner of the Czech-Armenian “Marlenka” cakes production, Gevorg Avetisyan on the creation history of “Marlenka”, its phenomenon and unprecedented success as well as other issues.



- Mr. Avetisyan, first of all I’d like to mention that it is very pleasant for us – Armenians – to learn that our compatriots living abroad have achieved great success, without forgetting about their national identity, upholding the Armenian name. Please, tell us a little about the way you’ve passed. How have you settled in Prague and established “Marlenka” company?


- I’m very thankful for such kind of assessment. I should note that I had never planned to settle in the Czech Republic and establish my own production, but I had to make such a decision in a certain stage of my life. I chose the Czech Republic, because I had beautiful memories connected to that country, especially Prague…


When I was studying in the faculty of Industrial Art of Institute of Fine Arts and Theater of Yerevan we were taken for a trip to the Czech Republic, and for me it was a crucial meeting with the most beautiful country with which I fell in love at once. I thought that if I ever decided to live in other country, it would be the Czech Republic. For many years I had that beautiful impressions and feelings living inside me. I was filled with pleasant memories, but I wasn’t thinking about living there. I was doing the work I liked – interior design, furniture production. I had my workshop and team. It was a creative work for me, in which I was investing my whole designing and artistic imagination. One could find our works in the best furniture stores of Yerevan. The newspapers even wrote about our works.



However, in 1990s, when the Karabakh movement started, the socio-economic conditions of our country worsened, and our orders came down, and it was natural. For a long time I was in search for finding a way to keep my family, but nothing worked. One day, when I was looking for a way out, I remembered about the Czech Republic and decided to leave for that country and understand whether it was possible to establish a company there and work. I didn’t want to settle there as a refugee. It was 1994. I left for Ostrawa, which is the third largest city of the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know the Czech language. I was looking for a lawyer who could answer my questions in Russian and give me a piece of advice. For six days I couldn’t find a Russian speaking lawyer and on the 7th day, when I was already in a hopeless situation, I knocked on the door of an office and I was very happy that their lawyer started to talk to me in not fluent Russian. He was my salvation. We talked for 4-5 hours. He told me what documents were required for establishing a company. I returned to Armenia and went back to the Czech Republic for two months. I arranged all the documents and settled with my family in the city of Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic.


- Was it easy to establish Your own company and work there?



- It was very difficult, especially since I didn’t know the language, had no acquaintances as well as large amount of money. Initially, for over 6-7 months, I wasn’t able to be engaged in anything. Then I decided to rent a bar, but it didn’t work properly, and I invested almost all the money I had. Every day I was sitting in the park in front of the bar. There was a dilapidated church there. It seemed that I was talking to God. No such a thing had ever happened to me. Yes, I’m a Christian Armenian, but I had never spoken with God, prayed with such a strong belief and inspiration. I noticed that the church’s cross was tilted. I looked at the church and said: “I’ll repair your cross.” My decision coincided with the organization works of the church’s renovation. I asked the renovation company to allow me to repair the cross. They agreed and told me how much it would cost. Without hesitation I gave my last money. Soon the church was ready, and I was invited to the opening. I was shown that my name was also written among the names of those people who participated in the church’s renovation. It was very pleasant and exciting for me to see all that. And something amazing happened: the bar started to work. I was also able to financially support my sister’s family in Armenia. Then I decided to invite them to the Czech Republic for us to be together. After they settled in the Czech Republic, every day my sister was asking me to find a job for her. One day I offered her to bake our traditional Armenian honey cake, thinking that I’d offer it to nearby bars. She baked it with love. I wrapped it up in an ordinary paper and offered to nearby bars. At first, they refused to accept the cake because of the packaging, as the hygiene rules are very strict in the Czech Republic, but I asked them to offer the cake to the costumers, and if they liked, we’d wrap the cake up in a paper corresponding to their requirements. People liked the honey cake, but there weren’t so many orders. The bars were in different parts of the city, and it was difficult for me to get there. It was causing me both material and time losses, but I didn’t want to hurt my sister. When I decided to speak with her about ending it, we received an order of baking 10 cakes. It was a great joy for us. Then the number of orders gradually increased.


- And Marlenka was born…



- Yes, my daughter Marlenka was born. We named her after my mother. Our production of the Armenian honey cakes was also named “Marlenka”.


“Marlenka” was officially founded on May 15, 2003. That was when I had to rent a small space in order to start the production of cakes there, because it was already impossible to do that at home. There were many orders, and it was necessary to provide production and packaging conditions corresponding to sanitary-hygiene norms. If previously it had been written “Honey cake according to old Armenian traditional receipe” on our boxes, now we added the “Marlenka” brand name to it. It was a right decision that contributed to the increase of our production and demand. People liked “Marlenka”. It was popular not only in the Czech Republic, but also beyond its borders, today - already in 38 countries.


- What stages of development did “Marlenka” pass then?


- I decided to build my own factory. I should note that at that time I had 30 employees from the city of Frydek Mistek, and that fact was praised by the local authorities. The Czech Republic has good laws. According to them, you are rewarded with money in case of accepting so many employees from the labor exchange. I got quite a large amount of money and invested in the construction works of the factory of “Marlenka”. Our first large factory [with its production line] was built. By the way, our honey cake production line is the only one in the world that was made for us by the Dutch, in 3 years, with a special approach. Last year we finished the construction of our second factory that is twice larger than the first one. Now we are building the third one that will be the tallest warehouse (13-storey) of the Czech Republic. It will work with completely automated mechanisms. The building will be ready next year.


- What assortment do You have, especially pastries? Which types are the most popular and demanded?


- I should note that the “Marlenka” honey cake achieved unprecedented success in the market, finding its place in all supermarkets of the Czech Republic. There were so many orders that we were baking only honey cakes for 6-7 years. In 2009, we began to produce “Marlenka” chocolate honey cake, which became our second most popular product. We added also 5 types of honey nuggets, which became the Czech Republic’s brand. Then Napoleon, baklava, fruit rolls, eclair, large assortment of cakes were also added. Now we produce 20 types of pastries.


One of our most important and successful products is the gluten free honey nuggets. They don’t contain gluten and are designed for people suffering from allergies. They are very demanded around the world, as the allergy is a common disease nowdays, and the pastries designed for people suffering from allergy are usually dry and not so tasty. The key to success of this type of product of “Marlenka” is that it’s very tasty, soft and makes no difference with ordinary pastries. We export it even to the United States.


- Could we say that “Marlenka” is a Czech-Armenian brand that upholds the name of the two countries?


- Certainly. The Armenian origin of our brand is mentioned on every box of the product. The Mount Ararat and Khor Virap church are depicted inside the boxes of the honey nuggets. I learnt from the archieves that the Armenians were the first to sell coffee in the Czech Republic, in the 17th century, and they taught the Czechs how to drink coffee. This information is also written on the boxes both in English and Czech.


However, the birthplace of “Marlenka” is the Czech Republic, and it is also a Czech brand. We received an official approval certificate. The Frydek Mistek authorities offered to depict their city symbol on our boxes, the regional authorities asked the same thing.


- Let’s speak a little about the taste and quality of “Marlenka”. What kind of criteria does the production have?


- Each product of “Marlenka” is produced on the basis of honey and nuts. It is especially notable in the production of honey cakes, as only high quality honey is used that we acquire from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We use 8 tons of honey monthly, and after the construction of a new factory we’ll need 20 tons of honey. Our production is carried out in ideal sanitary conditions. It’s already the second year that we receive Europe’s hygiene and production quality German and English certificates IFS and BRC. The most demanding certificate is the BRC. No factory in the Czech Republic and Slovakia has such a high level certificate. The level of our factory’s cleanness exceeds all the requirements. Such conditions couldn’t be found even in such factories and hospitals of Germany. During the most heated moment of the production our floor shines. Everything is mechanized, and the closed production process is implemented through the stainless steel pipes. The human factor is minimized. All the workers wear gloves, masks, robes that are without pockets. They don’t talk on phone during the work. There is no source of dust coming from the outside world. 70-80% of the Czech factories don’t pass the special inspection – audit. We were also a bit scared, but the Audit Committee left the factory of “Marlenka” admired, and I’m proud for that. I want to note another important thing: our product has an amazing, unique quality. It doesn’t contain any additives, color additives, but retains freshness and palatability for a long time.



There is no juicy and creamy pastry in the world that can be kept for three months (in 24˚C) and 8 months (in 8˚C).


- Which is the most important key to “Marlenka’s” success?


- I think that the key to “Marlenka’s” success is producing too hygienic, pure products that don’t contain additives and color additives. They are made from fully natural materials. Our products contain honey, which I consider a natural additive and the guarantee of “Marlenka’s” high quality.


Our production enjoys the consumer confidence, as our activity is open and transparent. All the halls are glazed which allows you to see the whole production process.


Of course, a key to the success is also the big love and devotion that we invested in “Marlenka’s” production. It was spread in the Czech Republic, and then - beyond its borders. It is really very pleasant to hear praising words, feel nice attitude, receive a lot of smiles from representatives of the Czech elite and ordinary citizens. That is the most important achievement for me.


- Your factory has become a unique excursion destination for tourists.


- Yes, the travel agencies offer all the tourists to visit “Marlenka”, considering it one of the most important achievements of the Czech Republic. The tickets are always sold out a month before. We receive 4 buses of tourists daily. They tour the factory, get acquainted with the production process, the history of creation of “Marlenka”, taste our products. In short, they spend quite interesting time.


- Which countries is “Marlenka” exported to? Which part of the production is consumed in the Czech Republic?


- We produce 500 thousand product pieces monthly, 6 million – yearly. 30% of the production is consumed in the Czech Republic, 20% - in Slovakia, 15% - in Hungary, and the rest – in different countries of the world. It is permanently exported to 38 countries of the world – from China and Korea to USA, Saudi Arabia, where the “Marlenka” pastries are sold in all shops and cafes, even the royal family enjoys our pastries.



- In addition to its taste and quality, “Marlenka” also has beautiful and elegant design. You are the designer of “Marlenka”?


- The boxes design belongs to me, and my niece is designing special festive cakes. She is very talented and expresses her creative imagination in the production of “Marlenka” in the best way. We have a special department that deals with making and designing cakes for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations. We receive orders from different countries of the world for their ruling elite. For example, the former President of the Czech Republic ordered his birthday cake from “Marlenka”.


- Don’t You have a wish to represent “Marlenka” in Armenia?


- That wish always lives inside me. This year, together with the Czech delegation, I visited Georgia and Armenia. Georgia’s “Carrefour” is interested in “Marlenka”, and our products will probably be represented there. There are also interested companies in Armenia. I hope that my wish will come true.


- What future plans of production do You have?


- I have a lot of future plans. New ideas are constantly born, but let me speak about those projects that we are going to implement in the near future.


We all like sweets, especially cakes. Unfortunately, some people, who have health problems, aren’t allowed to use sweets and they can't enjoy their favorite pastries. After producing gluten free pastries, we understood that there are many people who are fond of pastries, but can't eat them. That’s why we plan to produce pastries also for the people who are suffering from diabetes. We plan also to produce bio pastries, although cakes are baked on a natural basis. I think that next year we’ll have these two products. By the end of the year, 4 types of cakes will be added to our assortment. We should make a new production line. We plan also to produce “Marlenka” ice-cream again with honey basis. The largest ice-cream producing company of the Czech Republic produces “Marlenka” ice-cream that enjoys great success and is largely consumed. We aim at jointly developing that production, introducing completely natural and tasty ice-cream to the market. I’m sure that it will also differ for its taste and quality, as we are faithful to our principles and will never go against them for the sake of a greater profit.



- As far as we know, the Czech ruling elite greatly respects You and Your activity, and even the President of the Czech Republic has visited the factory of “Marlenka”. Have You received assistance from them?



- It is really so. They respect me, my work, and pay official visits to the factory of "Marlenka". Last year, the President of the Czech Republic visited us and spent two hours in our factory, tasted tha pastries, giving high assesment to our work. He said that it's even hard to find such kind of factory in Germany, and that he saw only one automobile factory which is glazed, and it makes the production visible.


Regarding the assistance, the Czech Republic has laws that support the producer to develop his work. The provided subsides, low interest loans are important assistance for every businessman. In that regard, I found myself in a more advantageous condition, as I got a chance to take out a loan from bank for 0,5% interest. It is true that there are low interest loans in the Czech Republic, but they made an exception for me, offering better credit terms for me.


If I look at Your question from this point of view, then yes, as a beginner, and then the owner of a large production, I received assistance from the country, without which I wouldn’t be able to have what I achieved.


Taking the chance, I’d like to thank the Czech society, in the face of the President, for the respect and love towards my personality.


- In 2013, You celebrated the 10th anniversary of “Marlenka”. It was quite a luxurious event for both its beauty and guests. Will You, please, tell us about the event? Who were Your guests? What kind of surprise did You prepare for them?


- On May 17, 2013, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of “Marlenka” we organized a real big celebration, luxurious event in the Czech city of Frydek Mistek. The celebration took place near our company – on a stage built special for that purpose. The event was attended by the prominent representatives of the Czech culture and politics, representatives of the Armenian community. Czech actor Bob Klepl, famous saxophonist Felix Slovacek, Pastor of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Slovakia Barsegh Pilavchyan, Armenia’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic and Slovakia Tigran Seyranyan and other respected people were among the attendees. At the end of the event we prepared a surprise that delighted and surprised all the guests. The 3-meter cake, designed like the church of Noravank, made the event more spectacular. My sister Hasmik Avetisyan’s daughter Nelly and two workers of our factory had made it in 3 weeks. When the cake was brought out under A. Meschyan’s “Where were You, God?” song, something interesting happened – it started to rain heavily, and the rain stopped when the song ended and fireworks started. It was really a beautiful event for all of us.


I decided to gift our birthday cake to the children of the region’s orphanage.


- Which is the peak of Your wishes connected to the “Marlenka” brand?


- I’m proud of “Marlenka”, which has Armenian roots and is popular in many countries of the world. My biggest wish is to be able to spread the taste of the Armenian cakes all over the world and make the world love it and learn about the magic country called Armenia. Today “Marlenka” plays an important role in the lives of people of 38 countries. We should attract also other states with our magic pastries and our history.


I also dream of opening a production of “Marlenka” in Armenia. Let it be a small one, with 50 workers. I hope that day will come soon…



- You have carried out a very important project connected to including the historical fact on the Armenian Genocide to the history classes of the Czech schools and not only that. Will You, please, tell us about it?


- With love, as I consider that project one of the greatest achievements of my life. I managed to carry out a project, according to which, the 8th grade pupils of all the Czech schools study the historical fact on the Armenian Genocide within the frameworks of the 20th century events of history classes. I sent a film crew to Armenia for a thematic shooting. They shot the Armenian Genocide memorial. A Czech book on the Armenian Genocide and other genocides has been recently published in the Czech Republic on my initiative. A lot of officials, including Armenia’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic, attended the book’s presentation. The event was covered by the Czech media outlets. The book has been spread in the Czech Republic. It has been highly appreciated.


Czechs are interested in the Armenian history, particularly the Armenian Genocide, which has become a topic for the students’ theses.


I think that steps should be taken for the students in different countries to study the fact of the Armenian Genocide within the framework of the history classes at schools.


- Mr. Avetisyan, what kind of relations do people have in Prague? Which are the top values there?


- Czechs are kind, tolerant and calm people. In their work they are balanced, reasonable and hard-working. They can have fun and spend interesting time.


It isn’t difficult to live among them. I have a lot of Czech friends, who are really good people. Among them there are such representatives of the art, as saxophonist Felix Slovacek, actors Bob Klepl, Bolek Polivka, actress Irzhina Bohdalova and other prominent people. They all like the “Marlenka” brand, respect me and visit us with great pleasure.


- How does the Armenian family live in the Czech Republic? Is it possible to keep the national traditions, mentality, values? Please, answer, bringing the example of Your family.


- Our lifestyle doesn’t differ much from the Armenian lifestyle. Every day, my mother, me and my sons watch Armenian TV channels, follow what’s happening in Armenia. Then we gather with Armenians and have a discussion. We talk also with our relatives and friends living in Armenia, try to get information from them.


Even my wife, who is a Czech, has completely integrated into our Armenian lifestyle. She likes the Armenian cusine. We bring up our daughter Marlenka with the Armenian spirit.


I have three children – my sons Vahe and Nshan, and my daughter Marlena. Vahe studies in the Institute of Economy of Prague. Nshan entered an Institute, but he didn’t want to continue studying and decided to work at our company.


Marlenka is 13 years old. She studies at school with excellence. She also likes “Marlenka” very much, and wants to grow up and work at our company, bake and design cakes.


- Your daughter’s mother is a Czech. How do You manage to bring up Marlena as an Armenian?


- I should note that my wife feels great in our family. The Armenian values are very close to her. She understands Armenian, but speaks a little. I think that she needs time for speaking Armenian well, Marlenka as well.


I was surprised to find out how strong the Armenian gene is. Marlena’s national consciousness is very developed. She considers herself an Armenian, and accepts the fact of the Armenian Genocide very painfully. She even calls me not to export “Marlenka” to Turkey. Of course, I explained her that it’s very important for all the countries, including Turkey, to know about Armenians, use the Armenian brand and assess it. It is a victory, but not a defeat.


- What dreams do You have for You and Your motherland?


- First of all, I dream of peaceful, developed, prosperous Armenia. I wish all Armenians return to their motherland. Regardless of the fact that a great number of Armenians live in other countries, I’m sure that they follow what’s going on in Armenia. They are suppressed by any bad news. No one can feel strong and well, when there is a war in his motherland.


I dream that my children to grow up healthy, find their place in life and continue my work. I always tell them this, bring examples. They answer me that they are also patriots and will continue the work of developing the Armenian products that I started with great love and devotion.


- Which is the source of Your inspiration?


- The Armenian values, picturesque nature, beautiful people. I was painting a lot in the past. It was giving me mental calmness and harmony. Now I'm lacking of time, but I wish of returning to that stage of my creative life, I miss it...


- Which are Your life principles?


- I try to transfer the slogan of my life to my children. I want them to be patriotic, honest, kind, friendly and hard-working.


- What is love for You?


- Love is the life's driving force, love is everything, and everything is nothing without love. "Marlenka" is the result of a big love.


- What is beauty for You?


- The artists see and feel the beauty more pictorial. Even though today I'm not painting, but I continue to notice and be inspired by the beauty. For me, after the perfect beauty of nature, the most beautiful thing is the high human values, mutual love and respect.


- Which season of year is the season of Your soul?


- I like all the seasons with their craziness and beautiful expressions, the reflections of which I find inside me - romantic autumn, beautiful spring, warm summer. Only winter's cold isn't so close to me, but I appreciate beautiful white scenaries of winter.




Interview by Susanna Tamazyan


Translated by Shoghik Pahlevanyan