- 1925 Emile Cortas packages his first jam for sale
- 1926 Emile Cortas learns jam-making in Dublin
- 1927 Cortas Canning Company opens for business
- 1935 Product line expands neighboring countries
- 1943 Cortas supplies jam to British troops
- 1974 Michel Cortas passes the torch
- 1975 Civil war in Lebanon begins
- 1978 Cortas plant destroyed by shelling
- 1984 Emile Cortas passes the torch
- 1989 Cortas plant destroyed by explosion of nearby gas reservoir
- 1990 Plant rebuilt
- 1995 Management reorganization commences
- 2000 Cortas distributes worldwide in 20 countries
For further reading on the history of Cortas and industry in the region, see an original 1941 article from Al-Kulliyah, the magazine of the American University of Beirut Alumni Association.
Upon graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Emile Cortas went to work in the university’s alumni office. Weekends, he would travel to the family home in the mountain village of Brummana. One such weekend, his mother, who was well known for her home-made jams, gave him a couple of jars of her apricot jam for his business school professor and friend, a Professor Nicoley. The Professor was so impressed that he advised Emile to go into the business. That summer, Emile helped his mother preserve the apricot crop, which together they packaged to present to friends and prospective customers.
Their summer experiment resulted in orders, and the business was born. Emile left his post at the university to build his own factory, as well as his knowledge of the jam-making business. In 1926, he apprenticed in Dublin with the Lambs of Ireland, famous jam-makers and old Cortas family friends. Upon his return to Lebanon, Emile imported the first of many top quality machines from Britain and started the Cortas Canning Company.
A few years later, Emile’s younger brother Michel, with a degree in chemistry from the American University of Beirut, joined Emile in the business. Emile managed business affairs while Michel took over factory production. As business grew, Cortas Bros., as the company became known, began distributing its products in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The product line expanded to include tomato paste, vegetables and fruit-based beverage syrups.
During World War 11, Cortas had earned such a reputation for quality that the British Army, with a reputation of its own for being meticulous, commissioned Cortas Bros. to supply marmalade to British troops stationed in the area. The factory expanded, placing workers on a three-shift schedule, in order to satisfy demand.
In the years just after the end of the war, Michel Cortas earned a master’s degree in chemistry. Around the same time, the product line expanded further and Cortas opened a tin factory in order to manufacture its own cans.
Business continued to thrive, but not without challenges. Political uncertainty, starting in 1948, unsettled the area and limited industrial growth. A tomato paste factory that Cortas had set up in Homs, Syria, was forced to close due to the upheaval. In 1974, Emile and the company lost an innovative chemist and dedicated manager with the passing of his brother, Michel. The following year, war broke out in Lebanon. During the next 15 years, civil strife badly damaged the country’s economy, as well as the Cortas factory.
The 1970s also brought the first change in management. Founder Emile, now in his seventies, became chairman, with long-time sales manager Fadlo Khauli moving into the position of general manager. Fadlo ‘s vision included opening new markets in the USA, Canada and Australia, where numerous war-displaced Lebanese had emigrated.
Meanwhile, war raged on. In 1978, shelling resulted in extensive damage to equipment once again. Finally, in 1989, mere months before the end of the war, the explosion of an area gas reservoir totally destroyed the Cortas plant. Rebuilding, achieved over time, took extraordinary perseverance, effort and dedication on the part of management and employees – but those qualities had been in place at Cortas since its inception.
Cortas Canning & Refrigerating Company aims to bring the finest quality Lebanese gourmet products to every corner of the world.
Today, Cortas is a publicly held company with a board of directors and regional shareholders.
The son of Emile Cortas, Ramzi was elected Chairman of the board in Nov. 2005.
Ramzi, who was managing Sales and Marketing for Cortas in the United States since 1997, assumed the responsibility of Chairman and General Manager in 2006 and continues to hold this position at the present time.