I'm about five miles from downtown Bern in a light industrial
park. A block away a freeway and train line runs side by side.
I'm standing outside chocolatier Gysi's head office and factory
and am having the hardest time trying to cram both buildings
into the same picture. It isn't possible so the picture accompanying
this story shows only the three-story factory. Not visible in
the picture and to the left of the factory is a salmon-colored,
two-story building housing the corporate offices. A three-foot
tall sign near the front entrance lets visitors know they have
the right place. Entering the building one can't help but notice
the large 12-foot tall tree planted in a huge copper kettle.
The reception area is on the second floor.
My contact person is Louise Gysi-de Bruin, who heads international
sales. The visit turns out to be very enjoyable thanks to the
delightful Gysi-de Bruin, who along with answering questions,
gives me a top to bottom tour of the offices and factory.
Before my visit I dropped by several supermarkets and had a look
at all the candy displays. I couldn't find a single item with
Gysi's name on it. Thus my first question to Gysi-de Bruin, "why
can't I find your chocolate in any stores?" It turns out
the bulk of the company's business is private label. For example:
ever been to Harrods in London or Marks & Spencer, the big
department store chain in England? Guess who makes those chocolates
bearing the Harrods and Marks & Spencer name?
Walter Gysi, father of current CEO Peter Gysi, founded the company
in 1935. The head office building formerly housed offices and
machinery of a printing company and is a listed (historic) structure.
Roughly 100 people work here. Employee parking is tight thanks
to several new office buildings having sprung up across the street.
Effective August 1st smoking isn't allowed on the premises, there's
covered parking for commuting cyclists, no formal dress code,
no cafeteria but, a nice bright break room for employees. I even
spot a Ping-Pong table on the patio of the break room.
Bern's airport is twenty minutes away (by car) and it's a five-minute
train ride to Bern's city center. When Gysi moved here in 1948
from downtown Bern, the area was undeveloped with Gysi the industrial
park's first occupant-now it's full with the surrounding area
being closed in with apartment buildings. Any employee perks?
Substantial discounts at the factory store, which is located
on the premises and open to the public.
My request to see CEO Peter Gysi's second floor office turns
out to be a an easy one to fulfill. Why? Oh I don't know, it
might have something to do with the fact he's married to the
woman who's showing me around. Gysi sits behind an L-shaped table.
I note the laptop, family pictures, palm tree (real) and hardwood
floor. The five-framed scenic pictures hanging on the walls look
familiar. Since I grew up in Arizona they should look familiar---they're
pictures of the Grand Canyon taken by Gysi. What's the view out
his window? An unexciting view of the street.
Louise Gysi-de Bruin has chocolate in her veins. The Dutch born
woman comes from a family of chocolate makers. How did Louise
and Peter meet? At a chocolate convention. I always like to ask
the person I'm meeting with their commute time. In New York City
an answer of two hours-each way, was the norm. Peter and Louise
Gysi have a much, much shorter commute time thanks to the fact
they live in an apartment above the factory. Can you imagine
the fun their three kids (now adults) had growing up above a
chocolate factory? The glorious smells and the opportunities
to sneak down for a sweet.
Though it's summer
and most of the factory is shut down, several sections are in
operation. Quality control is important and part of Gysi-de Bruin's
job (she's an official company chocolate taster) involves sampling
the chocolate. As we walk along the various conveyor belts laden
with assorted chocolates she periodically picks one up and slowly
bites into it before eating. I'm invited to do the same but my
method is different-I pretty much swallow the thing whole at
once. We pass a large walk-in cooler. It's locked. "What's
in there?" I ask. "It's where we keep the liqueur",
Gysi-de Bruin answers. It's kept locked not for security purposes
but for safety and insurance reasons. Why? It's 50% proof alcohol
-meaning it's highly flammable.
Gysi-de Bruin weighs my bike down with a sampling of goodies.
The pralines and truffles get the two thumbs up.