Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – XCVIII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Entertainment (24 of 30)


If I was allowed to mention only one establishment,  the obvious choice would be Groppi.

Giacomo Groppi came from Switzerland to Egypt in the 1880s. He apprenticed first with an uncle in Lugano; he was then briefly employed in Provence in the South of France. When he arrived in Egypt, he worked for Maison Gianola, a popular Swiss pastry and tearoom in Cairo.

Gianola had a branch in Alexandria; arrangements were made that allowed Giacomo to buy it. And so it was that Groppi, at 27, had his own pastry and dairy establishment. In time he opened a second branch. By 1900, Groppi was running a successful business. By 1906, he sold his company to Auguste Baudrot and retired. For the next 60 years, Baudrot became another mythical name in Alexandria.

But Groppi was destined to come back and to become a celebrated tearoom. During the economic depression of 1907, Giacomo lost his entire savings and was forced to go back to what he knew best: making chocolates, pastries, and dairy products. However, out of deference to Baudrot, Groppi moved to Cairo.

Groppi was much more than a tearoom. His company became chief purveyor of fine chocolates to monarchs and aristocrats throughout the Middle-East. During WWII, King Farouk managed to send by air 100 kilos of Groppi’s chocolates to then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of England. The young ladies were, of course, delighted.

In 1928, his son, Achille, launched his famous ice cream; it came in many flavors such as Sfogliatella, Peach Melba, Maruska, and Surprise Neapolitaine. Being a conservative soul, I have mainly tried chocolate. Its taste is simply sublime.

For many decades, the upper strata of society called upon the catering services of Groppi. All it took was one call from the royal palace, a pasha’s mansion, or an embassy, and Groppi took over. This service continued despite the nationalization of Egypt’s entire private sector in 1961.

International celebrities visited Groppi whenever in Cairo. He had non-stop bands who played dance music. It definitely was the place to be.

During the two world wars, Groppi’s Tea Garden became a favorite with the British army.

Between the wars, Cairo’s first outdoor cinema was inaugurated in Groppi’s garden at the Soliman Pasha branch.

Groppi had two branches: Midan (square) Soliman Pasha, and Adly Pasha Street. The Adly Pasha branch had a garden which allowed for a discreet rendez-vous; aristocrats came to share coffee and cake with their mistresses. As well, officers on leave frequented the garden in the hope of finding female companionship.

Before refrigeration, Groppi established a cold storage company – Industrie du Froid. He also had his own farm situated outside Cairo at Geziret El-Dahab (The Island of Gold).

Did I ever go to Groppi? I don’t think so; but I certainly consumed his delicious products. My parents and other family members went there only on special occasions. It wasn’t just the fact that it was an expensive place, it was surrounded by a special aura which made it intimidating to be there.

For those of us with modest means, Groppi launched a chain of pastry and coffee shops, “A L’Americaine.” You could also have a sandwich or a complete meal there; and, yes, it was modestly priced. It was right up my alley, and I did eat there not only because of the affordable cost, but also because I didn’t feel outclassed.

The legend of Groppi will not die easily. Unfortunately, the socialist regime of the 1960s took a heavy toll on this storied institution. Today, Egypt has reverted to a free market economy; but it is too late to bring Groppi back to life. Groppi’s descendants eventually abandoned the business and left Egypt.

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