The Greek immigrant who built a candy empire in Argentina

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Greek emigrant Michalis Georgalos with his Argentinian wife Marcela. 1 credit

Little is known about the Greek immigrant named Michalis Georgalos, who made life in Argentina sweeter with his confections by building an empire that lasted decades.

Nevertheless, the famous Mantecol, made with peanut butter and peanuts, which has become a staple of Argentine cuisine, is the creation of a man who left the island of Chios in his early twenties to try his luck in America. from South.

Born in 1915, the eldest of five brothers, Georgalos left his village of Chios with a suitcase, heading bravely into the unknown, as the threat of war loomed ominously across Europe.

He first arrived in Poland, where he learned the art of making halva. Soon after, however, World War II broke out and he was forced to flee Poland. On the advice of his uncle, he boarded the first ship he could find.

It was a boat for Argentina.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

Arrival of Georgalos in Argentina

When the Greek arrived in Argentina in 1939, in those frantic days at the start of the war, he did not even have a passport.

What he had, however, was a recipe for halva with which he hoped to make a living in a completely new world.

At the time, the wonderfully hospitable Greeks of Argentina were ready and waiting at the port of Buenos Aires to see if any Greeks in need of help got off the ship. Luckily for Georgalos he found Michalis Orfanos another Greek man who later became a second father to him.

Orfanos gave the Greek man who had just arrived on the mainland a small room to stay. Soon after, the Chian began making halva in a jar in his room and selling it on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Since sesame, the main ingredient in halva, was unavailable in his new homeland, Georgalos experimented with peanuts, which were abundant in Argentina.

With a variation of the recipe, Georgalos made a soft nougat made from peanut butter that he named mantecol, taking the name from the word “manteca”, which means butter in Spanish.

Greek immigrant to Argentina
The delicious Mantecol, made from peanuts. Credit: Dexxter/Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

Marries an Argentinian woman and opens a shop

Three years after his arrival in Buenos Aires, the Greek immigrant meets Marcela, the love of his life. They got married and started to start a family and build a building to house his small business.

Marcela, who loved Michalis deeply, learned not only the Greek language but also how to prepare Greek dishes. Soon the Georgalos house became a Greek house in distant Argentina.

When the war ended, Georgalos was anxious to know if his parents and siblings in Chios were alive as he desperately wanted to be reunited with his family.

When he found that his whole family had survived the war, he was overjoyed and, with the support of his wife, decided to do all he could to bring his parents, siblings – and even some of his his cousins ​​- in Argentina.

Slowly but surely, one by one, his brothers Sophocles, Timoléon, Constantinos and Odysseas arrived in Argentina, later followed by cousins, other relatives and compatriots from the village.

The Greek immigrant family became a big family again and they were all involved in the confectionery business, creating the popular Mantecol until the “Georgalos Hermanos” company became so big that they had to hire more other employees.

In the late 1950s, Georgalos moved his business to Cordoba since 98% of all Argentina’s peanut production is located there.

Georgalos bought an old brewery to house part of the company’s factory which he later fitted out to make chocolates and a variety of other confectionery products. These products quickly gained popularity throughout Argentina.

Greek immigrant to Argentina
Advertisement Mantecol. 1 credit

Greek immigrant brand becomes synonymous with sweets

From the 1960s and onwards, the business called “Georgalos Hermanos” followed an upward trajectory, and Mantecol became synonymous with the sweet daily enjoyment of Argentines.

This was until 2001. It was then that the unstable economic situation in the country led to a deep recession, generating serious financial problems within the company.

The Georgalos Hermanos company was forced to sell Mantecol, their favorite product which accounted for 35% of the company’s profits, to the multinational Cadbury, in an emotionally charged transaction for the Georgalos family.

The gap left in their product line after the company sold Mantecol, however, was filled in 2009 with a variant called Nucrem.

“Nucrem” continues to sweeten the lives of Argentines

Cleopatra Georgalou, the daughter of Michalis Georgalos, assures that the company remains strong and continues to be part of the daily life of the Argentines, even 70 years after the creation of the company by her father.

Speaking to the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) in Cordoba, Georgalou said the company was close to an agreement to recover the Mantecol brand.

“The business was booming. Then some brothers started other businesses and left. The one who worked hard to keep the company strong was my little brother, Yiannis, who sadly passed away four years ago,” Georgalou said.

The Georgalos family continues to work for Georgalos Hermanos despite the country’s weak economy, says Georgalou.

However, as his youngest son is currently president of the company, Georgalou says he is very optimistic about the future and very proud of the continuation of the tradition of the family business.

“I am very proud because the whole family works here, each in a different position. The name of my father and the grandfather of our children is the most important thing we have”, assures Cleopatra Georgalou and goes on to say that “Georgalos is synonymous with Argentina of sweets, chocolate and other sweets “.

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