Parting with Ramat Gan's Elite landmark is sweet sorrow

The new project, the Azorim Elite Tower, will be the tallest tower in Israel.

strauss elite building 2 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
strauss elite building 2
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
There is no visible border between Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, except perhaps the huge high-rise buildings that have sprung up in recent years to give Ramat Gan something like a Manhattan skyline. There used to be a border sign of sorts - a giant can of Elite coffee perched on top of the Elite chocolate factory that stood diagonally opposite the Diamond Exchange. For people with no sense of direction, that coffee can was almost like a compass. You knew when you saw it that you were entering Ramat Gan proper. And then there was always your sense of smell. The delicious aroma that emanated from the chocolate factory permeated the area. You only had to inhale to know where you were. But on Tuesday, the building that had for so long been a Ramat Gan landmark went under the hammer - the construction worker's, not the auctioneer's. In 2006, the Elite chocolate plant building was sold to Sonny Kahan of Crescent Heights, a Miami-based real estate developing company, for $44 million. Crescent Heights announced that it would build a luxury tower with real estate mogul Donald Trump. After a tremendous amount of media hype about a Trump Tower going up in Israel, the project was shelved and the property was resold last year to Azorim, which is controlled by Boymelgreen Capital. The new project, the Azorim Elite Tower, will either be the tallest tower in Israel or else will be tied for that honor when completed. Elite was founded in 1934 by the Fromcenko, Mosevics and Kopilov families in collaboration with other investors. Many years earlier, the same three families had operated a large chocolate manufacturing plant in Latvia. When they came to what was then Palestine, they brought all their trade secrets, business experience and network of international connections with them. In 1958, Elite launched Israel's first coffee company. Its major competition both for chocolates and coffee was Lieber, which it bought out in March 1970. Before moving to Latvia, Eliyahu Fromcenko had run a business of sorts in Russia, having experimented with chocolate-making in his own kitchen as early as 1918. But it was a chaotic period both politically and economically, and Fromcenko had the wisdom to get out while the going was good. In the early 1930s, he realized that Latvia was not a good place for Jews, and despite having a huge operation, he packed up and left, arriving in Tel Aviv in 1933. After Elite went public in 1973, it continued to expand, but the founding families were beginning to lose control. Toward the end of the 1980s, the controlling shares were purchased by the Federman, Jesselson and other families, who introduced new products and acquired companies and production plants abroad with the aim of becoming an international conglomerate. There were many issues on which the shareholding families disagreed. Eventually the Federman family sold to the Strauss family, another veteran of Israel's food industry. Its founders were Richard and Hilda Strauss, whose granddaughter Ofra now chairs the company's board of directors and is one of the most powerful women in Israel. It was not long before the Strauss group assumed control of Elite. New acquisitions and new products followed. Strauss and Elite operated as separate entities until 2004, when they merged. Last week Gadi Lessin, CEO of Strauss Israel, and Sigal Shiloni, who heads the food delights division at Strauss, hosted a farewell party for Ruth Adler, an employee of more than 66 years service affectionately known as the candy queen. Adler started out working for Lieber. The event was the prelude to the end of an era.