Come along on a tour of Krasny Oktyabr, Russia’s most famous chocolate factory – it’s sure to spoil your dinner.
By Michele A. Berdy
In 1848 a young Berliner by the name of Theodore Einem decided to seek his fortune in Russia. Encouraged by the success of his countrymen before him, he came to Moscow and opened a small store on the Arbat selling sweets, including chocolate (a relative novelty in jam- and fruit-loving Russia). When the shop prospered, he found Russian investors and built a small chocolate factory. When that in turn prospered, he took on Julius Heuss as a partner, and eventually built the red-brick factory on the embankment that wafts the delectable scent of chocolate over the city to this day.
By the turn of the century Einem and Heuss were producing an enormous variety of sweets: chocolate bars, chocolate candies, biscuits, cookies, jams, cocoa, hard and soft candies. They had fruit tree groves and a factory in Crimea that produced the jams, jellies and fruit fillings for their confections. Elegant stores on the best streets in Moscow sold their goods, which came in fancy tins and boxes – some covered in silk – as well as flowers and coffee. They won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the Paris exhibition in 1900, and became “Suppliers to the Court of his Imperial Majesty." The millions of sweets produced (and the millions of rubles earned) made Einem and Heuss the most successful confectioners in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Both Einem and Heuss passed away well before the 1917 Revolution, so they did not see their factory nationalized and blandly renamed State Confectionary Factory No. 1. But they would have been happy that for years “formerly Einem” was added to the name to ensure that consumers recognized the brand they had established. In 1922, on the fifth anniversary of Soviet power, the factory was renamed the Red October. And so it has remained, although the Reds have come and gone, and it is once again a privately owned company.
WHERE: 6 Bersenevskaya Embankment. The Bersenevskaya Embankment is in front of the famous House on the Embankment where the Great Stone Bridge crosses the Moscow River (next to the Kremlin). It’s best to park your car by the bridge and walk to the factory. Nearest metro: Biblioteka imeni Lenina.
WHEN AND HOW MUCH: The museum books all its group tours for Russian organizations in the first days of May for the coming year. Foreign groups (5-15 people) can call the museum office to set up tours. They are held on weekdays, usually in the morning.
Cost for adults: 500 rubles; children over 10 to university age: 350 rubles. Tel. 696 3552.
LANGUAGE FACTOR: The tours are in Russian, but you can bring your own interpreter.
KID FACTOR: Heaven. Being let loose in a chocolate factory – what more could a kid want?
The tour of the factory, which takes about two hours (or more, if you linger over tea and chocolates at the end of the excursion), begins in several halls with display cases illustrating the company’s products and history. A small room has been recreated to show what the factory offices looked like under Einem and Heuss. The tour guide gives a very thorough history of the factory and its sweets, which are illustrated by dozens of photographs, candy and chocolate boxes, jam jars, posters and other memorabilia.
Then you get to put on white lab coats, hats and plastic booties to enter two of the four working assembly lines. If you are a chocolate lover, this is close to heaven. If you watched the chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy as a child, you will be in double-dip heaven. You enter huge rooms so dense with the smell of hot chocolate you can put on ten pounds by just breathing. On the first assembly line, enormous vats pour hot chocolate into molds, which move along through various machines to be cooled, cut, picked up by suction and moved to other assembly lines and machines where they are wrapped, boxed, and released into the hands of the women in tidy white coats and head scarves, most of them remarkably slender. Perhaps after a few shifts in the factory, they are immune to temptation.
We tourists aren’t. As you walk along, the guide pulls chocolate bars, waffles, half-finished candies, molded fillings and wrapped candies off the assembly lines for you to sample. In fact, you are happily encouraged to grab and eat whatever you want, or fill your pockets with whatever you wish to try later. Russians prefer high quality chocolate that uses only cocoa butter (up to 80 percent in the bittersweet varieties). This is artery-clogging at its most divine. If you can still manage more, after the tour you are treated to tea and even more candies: huge bowls on the table and wrapped packages to take home.