Villars Maitre Chocolatier
Arrangements had been made to meet with Villars' Managing Director
Alexander Sacerdoti, but something came up a few days beforehand
and he had to cancel. His assistant was to let me know about
rescheduling for the following week. That wasn't going to work
for me since I'm currently less than 20 miles away in Bern. So,
I decided to take my chances and hope someone else at Villars
might have time to meet with me. After leaving chocolatier Gysi
in Bern (Switzerland's capital) I cycle the 20 miles to Fribourg,
a university town with 40,000 inhabitants, to visit Villars,
I'm about two miles from Fribourg's city center in a mixed-use
area. In front of me stands an impressive five-story, red brick
building taking up a whole city block. This turn-of-the-century
structure with a large smokestack houses Villars' offices and
factory. However, all is not what it seems. Though in the accompanying
picture you see the name "chocolat" on the front of
the building, Villars' factory and offices now only occupy only
a portion of the rear section of the complex thanks to a recent
sale and partial leaseback of the building.
Etienne Dumme, Director of Research and Development, and Michael
Lees, who's responsible for client services, are corralled into
answering questions as we sit in the cafeteria. Part of the cafeteria
doubles as the company store. Open to the public, the company's
full lines of goodies are available for purchase. I've seen Villars'
bars of chocolate in stores but didn't realize the extent of
the selections-milk chocolate, milk chocolate with nuts, dark
chocolate with nougat filling and so on. On a tray are free samples
of their chocolate-covered marshmallows but I take a pass as
I've never been fond of marshmallows except when they're used
to make Kellogg's Rice Krispie Marshmallow Treats. Amidst all
the chocolate goodies are packages of coffee. Coffee? The company
also markets it's own line of premium coffee.
About 100 people work here. Villars was founded in 1901 but my
two contacts aren't sure when this building was built. Smoking
isn't allowed in the workplace, there's no formal dress code,
it's two hours to Zurich's airport, one and a half hours to Geneva's
airport and there's covered parking for commuting cyclists. Any
employee perks? A measly 10% off goodies at the company store.
Was or is there a Mr. Villars? No, the company is named after
the neighboring village of Villars.
I ask to see Managing Director Sacerdoti's second floor middle
office but since he isn't in I'm told "it isn't possible".
That means I don't get to check if he keeps a stash of chocolate
in there. Researching the company I was very surprised to find
the company lacked a presence on the Internet. Dume and Lees
aren't sure but suggest it might have to do with having to then
offer their products for sale online-something the company wasn't
sure it wanted to do. Heck, they should at least have a site
displaying their extensive product lines, where they can be purchased
AND, some history on the company. Here's this more than 100-year
old company and they have zilch printed background material to
Departing it occurs to me that I've yet to experience any of
Villars' products---Dume and Lees let me leave empty-handed.
Don't ever recall a candy, cookie or chocolate maker letting
that happen-especially when there's an onsite factory.