Belgium’s Best Kept Secret

Dandoy shop Belgium

Dandoy is possibly one of Belgium’s best kept secrets. Their delectable biscuits have been keenly devoured for generations, but until 2012 there wasn’t even a shop outside Brussels.

 

Founded in 1829 by Jean Baptiste Dandoy, the company is still family owned and run and has a firm emphasis on quality and tradition. The products are all handmade, using 100% natural ingredients, with their most famous creations being prepared to the exact same recipe that was used 186 years ago.

 

Probably most famous for their divine speculoos biscuits, which from Autumn until Spring can also be bought with a decadently thick coating of chocolate, they are also rightly celebrated for their Pain a la Grecque, samples of which can nearly always be found laid out on the counter to tempt customers waiting to order. This deliciously sweet crisp bread encrusted with sugar crystals is in fact nothing to do with Greece, but a mistranslation of the Flemish Brusselir dialect, ‘bruut van de Grecht,’ which the non Flemish speaking French settlers thought sound more like ‘Greque’. There are also melt in the mouth biscuits in flavours ranging from salted caramel to earl grey tea, divinely rich Marzipan hearts and an exceptionally good gingerbread which Charles Baudelaire was apparently inordinately fond of when he lived in Brussels in the 1860s.

 

They are also renowned for their rusks, the popularity of which even helped them survive the financial crisis of the 30s and the war. The lack of raw materials, combined with food rationing, made it impossible to produce most of their specialities but as rusks were one of the few bakery products that could be bought with food ration coupons, they managed to get permission to carry on producing them. This stroke of luck allowed Dandoy to survive when many of its competitors went under. A fact for which we should be eternally grateful.

 

Dandoy has always been a company which has been happy to grow slowly. It is still possible to buy their products from the charming little shop on the rue au Beurre, situated between the Grand Place and The Bourse, that they moved to in 1858. In fact it took them over 100 years to open their second shop on the rue Charles Buls on the other side of the Grand Place. This second shop came with the addition of a tea room in which they decided to reintroduce Brussels and Liege waffles, products which had virtually disappeared from the city’s streets. Today, the queues outside the takeaway hatch patiently waiting for their waffles to emerge hot off the iron to be coated with a light dusting of sugar or a decadent dollop of cream testify that it is still the place to get the best examples in the city.

 

The company is slowly starting to expand, under the auspices of the current CEO’s son, Alexandre, who persuaded his initially reluctant father of the need for a rebrand in 2012. The resulting 25% increase in sales and an influx of younger customers soon persuaded him of his son’s wisdom. The company has since opened its first store outside of Belgium, perhaps not surprisingly in Tokyo, and there has also been a uniquely surreal collaboration with the luxury handbag designer Delvaux to celebrate their joint 185th Birthday in 2014. A golden ticket hidden inside special anniversary boxes of biscuits entitled the holder to a one of a kind Delvaux handbag decorated with Dandoy’s signature golden spots. Somehow this couldn’t have happened anywhere other than Belgium. It seems quite inconceivable for, say, Ladurée and Hermès to hook up in the same way.

 

There are now plans to broaden global distribution but they’re not planning on rushing things. It’s important to find the right format. Alexandre has suggested that they might be able to reinvent the concept of the tea room for the 21st century. Now that would be something worth waiting for.

 

 

 

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