Confectioner Bekir Effendi, to be widely known as Hacı Bekir after his pilgrimage to Mecca, moved from Araç, Kastamonu to İstanbul in 1777. He opened a small confectionery shop in Bahçekapı and began to personally produce and sell varieties of candies and “lokum”s (Turkish Delights). Hacı Bekir confections, with their history of four different centuries, appeal to tastes in five continents today.
In the production of confectionery in Turkey dating back to the 16th century, honey and molasses were used as sweeteners, and water and flour as binding agents. In the beginning of the 19th century, sugar produced in European refineries began to appear in Turkey under the name 'kelle şekeri', and Hacı Bekir started to produce “akide”s (hard candies) of various colors and tastes using pounded and melted sugar and adding ingredients such as rose, cinnamon, mastic, orange and lemon.
After the discovery of starch by German scientist Kirchhoff in 1811, Hacı Bekir began to use this instead of flour and created his unique “lokum” with the combination of sugar and starch. His ‘lokums’ are still unparalleled and impossible to be reproduced in any other country, although efforts to imitate the texture of Turkish lokums have conduced to the invention of jelly candies in the western world.
In addition to developing various kinds of Turkish candies and lokums through his meticulous personal work, Hacı Bekir also became a legend with his almond candies made in swinging cauldrons and various almond pastes made by kneading and shaping boiled and peeled almonds with sugar and sherbet.
When the fame of Hacı Bekir’s candies and lokums reached the Ottoman Palace, Sultan Mahmud II, the reformist sovereign who was the founder of the modern Ottoman, appointed him as Chief Confectioner to the Palace and also rewarded him with “Nişan-ı Ali Osmani”, a medal of honor of the first degree.
It is rumored that while these were happening in İstanbul, an English tourist bought some lokums from Hacı Bekir and began to offer them around in England as “Turkish Delights”, with the name he himself had invented. Lokum has ever since been known as “Turkish Delight” in general, particularly in English-speaking countries, and as “Lokoum” in France and the Balkans.
Ingrained in our culture and tradition as a significant element of Turkish-Ottoman history, Hacı Bekir has also featured in novels and articles documenting the lifestyle of the times, been penned by foreigners who were components of the İstanbul mosaic of the 19th and 20th centuries, and even been portrayed by the Maltese artist Amadeo Preziosi, one of the most famous of his era. The original painting of 43x58 cm, showing Hacı Bekir in his shop with details hinting to the lifestyle of the times now hangs in the Louvre Museum. A lithographic reproduction of the painting is exhibited as item number 214 in the Topkapı Palace.
Following the death of Hacı Bekir Effendi, first his son Mehmed Muhiddin Effendi, and after him, his grandson Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir took over the business. They continued with the same principles, talents and dedication, and the honorary title of Chief Confectioner to the Palace remained within the family for generations.
In 1873, Mehmed Muhiddin Effendi was charged by the palace to present Ottoman confections in a fair organized in Vienna under the care of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. He returned home with a silver medal and, having observed that all western participants carried their own trademark, created the first ever trademark of the Ottomans and his company, using the silver medal as a logo.
Later, in 1888, confectioner Mehmed Muhiddin Effendi participated in the Cologne Fair organized under the care of Augusta, Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia, and returned home with his second silver medal. In 1893, in the Chicago World’s Fair celebrating the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to America, Mehmed Muhiddin realized the first production and sales of lokum there, introducing this specialty to the continent. In the Brussels Fair in 1897, he added gold medals to his trophies.
Ali Muhiddin, although quite young, took over when his father Mehmed Muhiddin passed away, and realized many breakthroughs with the help and support of his mother Reşide. His time was the golden era of the company. Gold medals were received in the Paris and Nice Fairs in France in 1906. The title of Chief Confectioner to the Palace was also granted to Ali Muhiddin.
Under the management of Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir the grandson, Hacı Bekir became a world class company with groundbreaking business enterprises on an international level. Near the end of the Ottoman Empire, in 1911, Ali Muhiddin was granted the title of Chief Confectioner by the Palace of Egypt as well. Master confectioners and lower staff were sent to open branches in Cairo and Alexandria, the two major cities of Egypt.
In the year 1926, in the first floating fair designed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to promote Turkish industry in North African and European countries, Hacı Bekir confectioneries took their place on the steamer Karadeniz to be exhibited for 90 days along with the limited number of industrial and agricultural products of the times.
In the 1930’s, the company participated and received gold medals again in the Nice and Paris Fairs in France; and Thessaloniki in 1937 and New York World’s Fair in 1939. Participating in the most prestigious food and confectionery fairs such as 1965 Marseilles; 1971, 2002 and 2004 Paris; 1985, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2009 Cologne; 1986 and 2006 Moscow; 1987, 2005 – 2007 London; 1991 Baku; and 2007 and 2007 New York, Hacı Bekir is still going ahead with the company’s promotional mission.
With local agents in many foreign countries, the company is engaged in manufacturing, retail and wholesale, and exports of lokums, hard candies, nut pastes, dragees, halvas, bitter almond and other biscuits, cakes and various pastries.
During their expansion process, the Hacı Bekir Company, carrying the name of three generations, added the branch stores in Karaköy, Galata, Tepebaşı, Pangaltı, Çarşıkapı, Beyoğlu, Parmakkapı, and Kadıköy to their original central store in Bahçekapı.
As the oldest company in Turkey and one of the 100 oldest of the world, the products manufactured by Hacı Bekir Industries, Inc. are forwarded to the market through various distributors, a franchise company, and four retail stores owned by Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir Commerce, Inc.
Run by family members of the fourth and fifth generations, the company continues to create the best and most delicious sweets in the world with an ever-expanding accumulation of knowledge dating back to two and a half centuries ago. The following lines from the world famous TV series ‘Law and Order’ summarize this fact for all: “The best sweets in the world, from Hacı Bekir. I brought them from İstanbul.”
Today, the fifth generation of the family in business and the personnel from all levels of the Hacı Bekir Company proudly share the good fortune of being the epitome of quality and taste at home and abroad for so many generations.
Inventors of different tastes are the architects of culture… Hacı Bekir Effendi, blending and integrating the flavors of his own style into the national culture, has managed to realize a progress of evolutionary scale during his short lifetime, leaving behind a world heritage and a rich garden of sweets for the İstanbul Cuisine. We don’t know whether he had expected his vision to reach future centuries, spread world-wide and break new ground in culinary arts when he first opened his modest shop on a street of the İstanbul of yore, at the times of eulogy shows, shadow puppetry and folk poems. What we know for sure is that the history of Hacı Bekir Effendi and his successors sets a unique example of the powerful and successful combination of our deep-rooted cultural richness with the technological developments of modern times, being a source of pride for us all.
Hacı Bekir will always be more than happy to welcome those who would like to inhale the scent of history and savor the exquisite tastes of nature artistically reflected on confections…