Marlenka cakes: the boxes highlight the traditional Armenian recipe of honey-cakes

How Marlenka Conquered the World: This Traditional Armenian Pastry Is Exported to 50+ Countries (Video Report)

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WASHINGTON — Korean characters known as hangul, Arabic abjad from right to left, German, British, Austrian, American and other websites, and endless Instagram and Facebook pages connected with nearly five dozen countries worldwide advertise Marlenka, the Czech-made Armenian honey cake.

Marlenka cakes: the boxes highlight the traditional Armenian recipe of honey cakes

When in 2003, in a small town of the Czech Republic, Armenian Gevorg Avetisyan launched a honey cake business with one single oven in nearly 200 square feet of working space, it would be impossible to imagine such a success. Now Marlenka bakes over 4.5 million cakes every year in addition to nuggets, rolls, snacks, and a wide variety of different pastries. Avetisyan became known as the creator of one of the most recognized (if not the most recognized) brands of the modern Czech Republic. If you think it’s beer, I can point to other countries that produce wonderful beers, but there is no second Marlenka anywhere.

Gevorg Avetisyan at Marlenka’s headquarters in Frydek Mistek (Czechia)

“I have been recognized nearly ten times as the businessman of the year of our region and/or of the entire Czech Republic. Marlenka is officially named the superbrand of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, where it has become trendy, said Gevorg at the beginning part of our Zoom conversation. He expects Marlenka to be recognized as the superbrand of Austria in 2022. “Any store or a coffee shop of Austria nowadays serves Marlenka,” added Avetisyan.

Meeting the Czech Republic president has almost become routine for our compatriot: The Czech Republic’s president and the first lady visited the Marlenka headquarters on more than one occasion. Avetisyan will see the leader of his new homeland the next time on March 7: Miloš Zeman, the president, will award Avetisyan with the highest award of the countryt: the Order of the White Lion.

President of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman visits Marlenka’s headquarters

“There are very few non-Czechs who received this award. One of them was Winston Churchill, who got it posthumously in 2014,” explained Avetisyan, adding: “This is an exceptional honor.”

Starting Small

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As noted above, everything started with a small oven. And also, with a small miracle.

In 1995, Avetisyan settled down in the Czech Republic. First, he set up a bar. This business was unsuccessful. There were not too many customers. Gevorg was getting ready to sell the bar to return to Armenia, but no one was willing to purchase the bar from him.

“I was nearing bankruptcy. There is a small church in our town. One day I walked there, sat on a bench, and asked God for help. I noticed that the cross on the top of the church was tilted. I said, ‘God, if you help my business, I promise to fix the cross,’” recalls Avetisyan. But then he changed his mind.

“Am I trying to cut a deal with God? I asked myself after I returned home,” remembers Avetisyan. “I felt that if I am a true Christian, I should donate now, without waiting until things get better.”

He walked into the church office the next day and gifted his last savings to the parish council.

“I had no more savings. I thought I was finished. And then, my sister asked me: Gevorg, do you remember the honey cakes our family was baking in Armenia? What if I bake and try to sell them at your bar?” related Avetisyan.

The customers liked the honey cakes, and Avetisyan began distributing them in the neighborhood. That’s how the new, and, as it would soon turn out, highly successful business started. Avetisyan named his brand Marlenka after his daughter Marlena Avetisyan. Marlena is also the name of Gevorg’s mother.

Marlenka Nuggets with the images of Mount Ararat and Gevorg Deodatus inside the box

The story with a cross sounds like a miracle, doesn’t it? But it is an ever-present narrative in the Czech Republic. It has been told in different programs and literally a dozen films, both documentary and fiction movies, dedicated to the story of Marlenka. Commercial billboards of the country’s main Volksbank, which financed Marlenka’s growth at some point, feature the picture of Avetisyan in the downtown of Prague. Volksbank cites Marlenka as one of the best investments it ever made.

“Our origins go back to the historic town of Van. My great-grandfather Varazdat Melikian traveled from Van to Istanbul to set up pastry production there. He was very successful. He developed some recipes that made his pastry distinguished. I have been told that in 1915 the Turks hung him in front of his mill. Our family preserved the secret of his honey cakes. That’s why Marlenkas are different from other honey cakes that exist on the market,” Avetisyan continued.

After Marlenka became popular, other companies tried to produce similar pastries and even emulated the brand’s name: fake cakes under fake names like Marmetka, Marchenka and others, however, did not succeed. Varazdat Melikian’s authentic recipe and the hard work of his descendant paid off.

In a very symbolic way, the very first café of Prague was set up by another Armenian whose name also happened to be Gevorg. The café in the old part of the city, near the famous medieval bridge of the capital, still exists.

Prague’s first coffee shop opened by Armenian Gevorg Deodatus in the 18th century

“Ever since I settled down in the Czech Republic, I heard talks about Armenian Gevorg Deodatus, the founder of the first coffee shop of Prague. But I wasn’t sure if this was a well-established historical fact or not. As it turned out, this story is completely true. I visited the National Archives and discovered that all the documents pertaining to our compatriot Gevorg from Damascus are enshrined there. I have the story about Deodatus inside the box of my cake. Also, it’s on display at the museum I have set up at my headquarters,” concluded Avetisyan.

In 2015, the country’s spiritual leadership gave one of the city churches to the growing Armenian community. “I believe that sooner or later, it would still have happened,” says Gevorg. However, Marlenka’s owner expedited the work.

President Milos Zeman visits the Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan

Follow the video link below to learn more about Gevorg Avetisyan’s visit to Armenia with the president of the Czech Republic in 2014. Gevorg relates how the Czech Republic recognized the Armenian Genocide and how Armenian students from Damascus Gevorg Deodatus (Astvadzaturian) opened the first café in Prague in the 18th century.

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