Alexandre Helson is brought up surrounded by sweetness. Now CO-CEO in the family venture ‘Maison Dandoy’, founded on crispy mouthwatering biscuits, he takes pride in keeping on the family heritage which is strongly rooted in Brussels and its local traditions.

You’ve grown up with Maison Dandoy. Could you start out by telling your personal story within the company?

I’ve now worked 11 years in the company. Our father handed on the baton two years ago and, together with my brother, we’re the 7th generation in the family running Dandoy. I did my studies at the Solvay Business School in Brussels and finished off with a final thesis on Strategy Development. During my thesis research I met and talked to many of the employees at Dandoy and learned a lot about our internal and external environment and what we needed to do to stay competitive and develop our products. After my studies, I decided to work somewhere else in digital marketing for a couple of years but I soon realised that there was so much to do at Dandoy so I started working with my father. Together, we accomplished an exciting rebranding phase, in collaboration with the Brussels branding and communication agency, Base Design.

Maison Dandoy has been based in Brussels since 1829. In your words, how has your family been able to keep this business going and evolving for almost 200 years?

Our products are handmade and of highest quality. Sure, we use machines but our production includes a lot of manual labour. Our family has been lovers of good products ever since the first day and I’m convinced that this is what keeps our business going. 80% of our sales happen in our own shops which shows the customer’s commitment to the product. My grandfather was epicurean, a ‘bon vivant’ as we say. He went to Faro in Portugal to pick up the almonds himself. He wasn’t blinded by industrialisation but wanted to maintain the strong heritage of the company and the high-quality products. He understood the impact of history yet trained as a chemist he was also open to innovation. He introduced our range of biscuits without gluten for instance.

I would say that Maison Dandoy stands for something both contemporary and timeless. We try to remain relevant with the same product that was made 200 years ago. Of course, a lot has changed in production and we have to stay at the forefront on every level. Sustainability is of high priority for us and we’re making changes in the company to accommodate this in relation to ingredients, packaging, transport etc. We want to pass on our heritage and the only way to do this is to stay alert. We wish to be regenerative; this is our guide now. It’s not our objective to grow but to follow society and have a positive impact with what we do.

Maison Dandoy is driven by passion. When my brother and I took over, my motivation was the company philosophy which has been sustained for almost two centuries. I find all the ingredients here: people, culture, artisans, collaborations, sustainability. Dandoy is deeply rooted in Brussels’ culture. Some of our old biscuit moulds represent the folklore and the amazing personage which has been part of Brussels’ culture since Dandoy was founded. We still use these moulds. Dandoy has been located in the centre of Brussels, in Rue au Beurre since 1860, the place in town where all the butter used to be sold. Back then, our production was situated on the top floors with the shop downstairs on street level. Our family still owns that house and serve customers here every day. My grandfather was even born here. It’s a very important place for all of us as many family members worked here too. I have so many childhood memories from that neighbourhood and the centre of Brussels.

Where do you live now and how do you experience the city today?

I live with my family in the borough called Boitsfort. Here, you have all the advantages of being close to the city yet you’re right next to Forest de Soignes, we can pick up our vegetables grown locally at La Ferme du Chant des Cailles and indulge in Sunday markets, an urban luxury. Before moving here, I lived close to the fish market in the centre of town and I did everything by foot. The city centre is constantly changing, it’s nice to walk around but there are less and less of the old establishments. I love the spirit in Belgium; the humour and the tone of voice. My grandfather was active in the folklore culture which was very present in the centre. You can still find this type of folklore in some areas of Wallonia but unfortunately many of the organisations keeping it alive are slowly disappearing. I still really enjoy a morning walk crossing the Grand Place with all the suppliers arriving; it’s a special moment, a bit magical.

Alexandre is one of the 73 locals who has generously contributed to our city guide
 'Brussels by locals' by sharing his favourite spots in town.

Pictures by Stephanie De Smet