Issue 2, 2014. April-May

   

MY CITY, TBILISI

Mitrophane Laghidze and the Tale of His Famous Laghidze Waters

Emil Avdaliani

During two empires and for nearly 100 years, a shop on a Rustaveli Avenue was the home of one of Georgia's most famous brands: Laghidze Waters.

Created by Mitrophane Laghidze, a Georgian from Imereti, Laghidze Waters was once as famous as Borjomi and Saperavi, a Georgian bubbly sugar drink served to royalty and heads of state, including Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Harry S. Truman.

Successful Start-Up and the Birth of a Brand

Laghidze, born in 1869 in Cholevi village (Imereti), was just 14 when his family sent him to learn the pharmacy trade in Kutaisi. His mentor, Polish immigrant Cezar Ivanovski, also dabbled in carbonated sweet drinks, known as lemonade, and Laghidze took over the business when Ivanovski died in 1886. By 1887 Laghidze had already created a special lemonade receipe made up from various fruits and herbs, and established a cooperative for the lemonade production. One bottle cost one shauri, or 10 grams of copper.

Lemonade was a common beverage, created by bottlers in villages and towns all over Georgia. Laghidze, however, sought something more. In 1902, he traveled to France and Germany to perfect his technique, returning to Tbilisi in 1905 with a new recipe using fruit syrup instead of herbs. Laghidze also worked to turn his business into a brand: each bottle carried a label with a picture of a woman in traditional dress - believed to be his mother - and the slogan "Avoid fraud, demand everywhere."

Laghidze based his production at 24 Golovin (nowadays Rustaveli) Avenue, and the first "Laghidze Waters" shop opened in 1906.

He created a supply chain, bringing in fresh apples from Gori, strawberries from Bakuriani, oranges and lemons from Abkhazia, for his all natural Georgian fizzy drinks which, by that time, were sold throughout the Russian Empire.

His recipe, a tightly held secret, gained fame within the empire and abroad: Laghidze Waters won awards in Vienna in 1913 and in St. Petersburg the following year. Before the 1917 Russian Revolution, Laghidze sold his lemonade to the Tsar Nicholas and his court - it was even rumored to be a favorite of the Iranian shahs, who imported it to Iran.

Politics and Fizzy Water

In addition to being one of the most innovative entrepreneurs of his day, Laghidze was a progressive thinker. His factory was one of the first enterprises to introduce an eight-hour day in the Caucasus, and Laghidze served as a patron of literature, publishing many poems and verses by famous Georgian writers including Ilia Chavchavadze, Akaki Tsereteli, and Vakhtang Orbeliani.

Despite his fame and good standing in the Tsar's court, Laghidze was not above suspicion in the heady days before the revolution: as an active member of the "Society for the Spread of Literacy among the Georgians," he made the Russians ruling Georgia nervous, especially since his brother, Mikheil, had been exiled on suspicion of belonging to a radical group.

In fact, there is some evidence in the Georgian archives that indicates, in addition to producing his famous lemonade, Laghidze's factory also served as a conduit between Russian revolutionaries living abroad and radical groups operating in Georgia.

Lemonade in the Age of the Soviets

Laghidze Waters fell on rough times immediately following the 1917 Revolution: a massive fire put the factory out of work from 1921 to 1927. But, Laghidze rebuilt and, by the 1930s, production was back to its pre-1917 levels.

Within the Soviet Union, Laghidze's popularity soared. By 1934 he had been invited to Kiev, Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg), as well as to Iran and Egypt, to explore options to expand factories outside of Tbilisi but he decided to stay in Georgia.

Laghidze's lemonade was also reportedly popular with the Americans who had a chance to try it: after sampling a Laghidze Waters during the 1944 Yalta Conference, then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly asked for 2,000 bottles of the lemonade to take with him.

Winston Churchill was equally impressed, mentioning the lemonade in his memories about the 1943 Tehran Conference. In 1952, then U.S. President Harry Truman sent 1,000 bottles of Coca-Cola to Stalin, who responded by summoning Laghidze to the Kremlin and dispatching a shipment of Laghidze Waters to Washington. Despite requests to export Laghidze Waters to the U.S., Stalin refused to allow it to be traded outside the Soviet Union. He did, however, appoint Laghidze (then aged 83) as a commissar of USSR beverage production. "Laghidze Waters"' branches were opened in Kiev and Moscow (on Arbat Street).

Laghidze died in 1960, aged 91. His statute was built in the courtyard of the factory (which unfortunately does not exist today) on Klara Zetkin Street.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Laghidze Waters continued its existence at Rustaveli 24 till the Rose Revolution of 2003 when the shop was closed and the place sold. However, after several years it reopened on Melikishvili Street and is still owned by the members of the family.