The Story of Cilia Products Ltdas remembered by Victor Cilia, the eldest son of the family.
The Company of Cilia Products Limited has its roots when Angelo and Nina, both in their early twenties, were married together and had their first-born in 1932. In those days the world was passing through a great recession. Life in Malta was poor and miserable to the extent that beggars knocked doors for a piece of bread.
Angelo was a determined and ingenious man notwithstanding his illiteracy. He started getting some bags of sugar, food essences and colours, and began producing sugar-drops. His first machine was a hand-driven equipment tied to one side of a marble-slab-table. Thus was first established the Candy Factory at 28, High Street, Hamrun, as boastfully showed the signboard on the door of his four-roomed house; the two at ground floor served as shop and workplace, while the upper two were reserved for the family that kept always growing. Sugar-drops were made in various shapes and flavours and of different colours that pleased the eye. It was practically the only kind of sweets available in Malta at that time.
Angelo was encouraged by the success in the trade. From an old relative of his, he bought a rolling-pan for the manufacture of sugared-almonds (perlini). This machine occupied most of his inner room and Angelo worded day and night aided only by his meek little wife Nina who had also to look after the kids. The Malta Carnival is usually celebrated with lot of fun and noise since the times of the Knights. Year after year Angelo always had big orders from those who liked merry-making. These, in fanciful dresses and masked, used to pass in horse-cabs (karozini) through the streets and shower the on-looking crowds with candies and perlini to the delight and laughter of all.
Trading Among Disruption
But the years of the Second World War (1939-1945) brought disruption and sorrow everywhere. Malta as a British Fortress was heavily bombed causing many houses being destroyed and people killed. Fortunately, Angelo’s premises escaped great damage but for three times that the roof had collapsed due to the blasts from the explosions, and every time repaired again. As air-raid warnings were given over the Rediffusion and by sirens from Police Stations, the family as most of the population, had to run into the underground shelters for recovery and when the situation worsened, even sleep entire nights down there.
Now the work had become irregular also because of the great shortage of commodities. But still several people had been inquiring for Angelo. On reaching Blata l-Bajda, limits of Hamrun, one could guess form a corner away where ‘Anglu tal-helu’ lived, because the sweet smell of flavours filled the air. Someone having a girl for marriage prayed Angelo to do his best and work for them some sugar-drops for a modest reception. Even parents with a new-born baby liked to treat well-wishers with sweets. Angelo could also supply them with ‘Rozolin’, the liqueur made with many different flavourings. But clients had to provide him with empty bottles!
During that period, a well-known customer was the holy priest Dun Gorg Preca, the founder of The Society of Christian Doctrine. He and his members used to gather hundreds of children at the centres in the evenings to give them religious instruction. Conscious of how much children loved sweets, on certain occasions after the talk, Dun Gorg would bless a tin box with sugar-drops and then give one to each and every child going back home. He also would advise them, if they had anybody sick, they should refrain from eating the sweet themselves but instead pass it to the invalid one.
Moved to Better Accommodation
After the war years, the island as a British Colony was granted the self-government. From thereon the Maltese Administration sought from Britain and the Allies all the necessary help for the people who had suffered so much and also for the reconstruction of buildings. New building methods were introduced as was the concrete-mix for roofs. Angelo had been thinking of better accommodation since a long time, more so now that the family had already grown with five boys and four girls. Therefore he managed to purchase a large plot of land up the road in a side way; St. Thomas Street where today the Company still stands. Here a big house and a spacious area for the factory were built and in 1948 the family and works moved to this new premises. However, soon it was discovered that a lot of amenities in the area were missing. Many appealing letters had to be written in the daily paper “Il-Berqa” and to the authorities for a proper water and drainage system, sufficient power supply, the town-gas, the street to be asphalted, a letter-box in the vicinity…. And the application for a telephone kept everyone waiting for the full 14 years! The father’s intention being self-employed was that of providing work for his lads. Therefore he installed some other confectionery machinery to increase production. Chiefly among these was the sugar-grinding mill that produced the finest icing sugar ever made for the use of cream-buns and pastry cream. Confectioners from all over the Island used to come and exchange their granulated sugar for icing sugar against some charge. The mill itself was fixed into a corner and enclosed by tall partitions. Angelo was determined that no visitor to his factory might get a glimpse of it. Up to his day, no other imported sugar-mill has yet matched its finished quality. In 1954, through an agent of a German firm, Angelo imported a big Coffee Roasting Plant and coffee-grinding machines. These brought him some luck as for a number of years he succeeded to win Government tenders for the supply of roasted and ground coffee to hospitals and other institutions.
Furthermore in 1960 Angelo entered into contract with Stauro Sandaljoglou, a long-standing Greek confectioner whose work was the produce of Halva (Helwa tat-Tork) the oriental sweetmeat made from the sesame seed oil. Angelo bought his factory with all the stock and equipment. Since the old man was to retire, he bound himself to instruct and assist for some tome Angelo and his sons in the daily work of halva. Soon the boys got the trade and began producing it with great pride and ability under the name of A. Cilia & Sons.
The Brothers Take-Over
Seeing his sons very willing, the following year Angelo sold all the business to his four eldest sons. Poor fellows were still penniless and suddenly found themselves full of debts. But they had the know-how of the trade. So they agreed to put their heads together and started working hard for long hours and almost 7-days a week. Fortunately the father never stayed idle; instead he always stood by their side and helped them immensely. With the acquisition of Independence in1964, foreign firms were set up in Malta, new trading developments introduced and the importation of sweets and chocolates on the local market increased. However, Cilia Brothers kept the business wheel going. They went along producing sugared-almonds and sugared-peas which inherited from their father. Sugar-drops did not remain much in demand. The roasting of coffee beans and of chickpeas continued. The production of halva during the hot summer months suffered a little. So Cilia Brothers, with expert advice form the UK started the manufacture of milkshake powders and flavoured soft-drinks powders for delicious cold drinks.
A Company Established
The year 1979 is a memorable one for the Cilia Brothers. On the 23rd February 1979 they formed and constituted between them a limited liability company under the laws of Malta, with the name of Cilia Products Limited. On the 4th July of the same year they entered into agreement with the owner of a shop at 203, High Street – Hamrun for the lease of it. The aim of this outlet was, and still is, the increase in the selling of products already manufactured and also the sale of groceries in relation to confectionery, cake ingredients, related decorations and confectionery accessories. Such a shop in the central commercial area of Hamrun today proves to be an excellent venue both for the housewife and the skilled confectioner alike, where they can find all the required items, to work out on their own, all kinds of cakes, puddings, pastries, desserts and ice-creams for parties and similar festive celebrations. Today, while Cilia Products Ltd remains a family business yet it employs fifteen regular workers.
The Company caters for the local market and keeps on improving its techniques by quickly adopting modern lines for better and efficient trading. Production has extended to some other confectionery items such as the manufacture of glace cherries and candied peel. Cilia Products Ltd are also dealers in a wide range of herbs and spices used in the cooking of different quality foods and other delicacies.