The Business of Happiness

Winans Chocolates and Coffees remains a community staple

By Katie Christoff

According to Joe Reiser, owner of Winans Fine Chocolates and Coffees, his products are both an art and a science.

Both chocolates and coffees require a laborious and meticulous process in order to satisfy Winans standards. The family-owned company makes its own chocolates and roasts its own coffee from beans Reiser personally travels to South America for, to purchase from local farmers.

This attention to detail and quality stems from the family-oriented nature of the company—Reiser and his wife Laurie Winans-Reiser purchased the business from her family in the early 1990s. Only the original location in Piqua existed when they took over the company, but they’ve since expanded to 13 locations, along with product in three Dorothy Lane Market locations and on campus at the Ohio State University and Miami University.

This past summer, several production locations were consolidated into a brand new factory that the Reisers had specially built for them in Piqua. The move took them out of a factory that had housed their chocolate production for 40 years. While this was perhaps a sentimental parting, the move was well worth it, increasing the Winans production space by 7,200 square feet.

Despite the expansion, the new factory manages to be cozy and personal—perhaps more so than before—with the help of windows looking into the chocolate production.

Instead of a flagship store, Laurie Reiser likes to call it a “hometown store,” since they’re a very family and community-oriented company.

All in the family

Laurie’s father, a third-generation baker, founded Winans Carriage House Candies in 1962. It was located inside an old carriage house in Piqua, just a few blocks from where the new facility will open.

“He decided he didn’t want to spend his life getting up at 3 a.m. and throwing everything away at 3 p.m., so he switched from baked goods to chocolate,” Joe Reiser says. All the manufacturing and retail took place inside that one building.

Laurie says growing up with a father who owned a chocolate shop wasn’t as exciting as one would imagine.

“It was not as exciting as it probably was for our kids,” she says. “Back then, my dad had one small store and it was kind of difficult to make ends meet. Now, our kids will walk into the store and feed the multitudes.”

She recalls one instance, however, when her father shared his chocolates with all of her first grade schoolmates.

“My dad let first grade classes take tours of the manufacturing area,” she says. “Then we had to draw pictures and send him thank-you notes. Well, at my 20 year [high school] reunion, my dad gave all those thank you notes to me and said to take them back if the kids wanted to see what they did 25 years earlier. It was so much fun to look at.”

Despite those fond memories, Laurie knew one thing for sure growing up: she didn’t want to take over the family business. When she married Joe, they didn’t want to be restricted to a small town, but their plans soon changed.

“We were both in corporate careers and didn’t really see ourselves living in a small town, but then we got very into it and I decided to go full-time into the business,” Joe Reiser says. He came on board and began learning the business while still balancing his other job, but eventually came on full-time. His wife did the same.

A jolt of caffeine

When Joe and Laurie Reiser fully took over the business, they introduced coffee to Winans.

“One of the stipulations was that I had to have coffee,” Joe says. “So we put an espresso machine in our little store in 1995, more just for me, but we served espressos and cappuccinos and it really took off. Six months later we opened a second store in Troy.”

As Joe learned more about coffee, he decided to begin roasting his own. He started by roasting it in the garage behind the old carriage house, but now, thanks to the new facility, has the space he needs to focus on coffee roasting.

The Reisers now travel to Central and South America to buy coffee beans.

“The whole process of working with farmers, knowing farmers and getting specific beans we like from farmers is great,” Joe says, recalling one instance when they befriended a coffee bean farmer in Honduras and baked bread and cakes with his family.

“We obviously can’t go all over the world, but we’d like to,” Joe says.

His coffee addiction began when he was studying political science at Ohio State. He drank coffee out of necessity, but after tiring of typical, easily accessible brands, he set out on a constant quest for better coffee.

“We put [coffee] in out of necessity more than my knowledge, but my knowledge grew as we continued,” he says. “Then we learned that the similarities between chocolate and coffee are pretty amazing.”

A legacy of chocolates

Despite expansions in location and product, after 55 years in the business, Winans maintains its hands-on approach and commitment to quality. The company knows it’s set a standard in the community that it has to live up to.

“We buy chocolate from another company and mold it,” Joe Reiser says, attempting to explain their hands-on process. “There’s one art and science of making the chocolate, but there’s another art and science of making the confections. We condition [the chocolate], temper it and manage that process continually [to make the confections.]”

One such worker who dedicates her days to the meticulous art and science of making confections is Miss Clara, now in her late 80s. Her job is to make sure the chocolate is flowing properly and tempered right.

“Clara has been with us for 44 years—actually, she was sick one day this week and it was the first time in recorded history that she’s ever missed a day of work,” Laurie says. “She came on board to work for my dad and worked for him many years, and when Joe and I took over the business, she said she’d stay two years at most.” Over 20 years later, she still hasn’t worn out her welcome. Winans now offers a chocolate dubbed the “Miss Clara” in her honor—pecan toffee piece Laurie says became almost an instant classic.

The new factory has made it much easier to keep up with the demands of 13 locations—and Winans is settling in just in time for the holidays. Laurie says Christmas is the busiest season, but as soon as it’s over, they must jump immediately into Valentine’s Day and Easter. Easter, she says, is one of the most difficult because of the level of detail that goes into the chocolate bunnies they make.

Some of Winans’ most popular products include the buckeyes, an Ohio classic, and also toffees, caramels and marshmallow products.

“They’re so darn good,” Laurie says of their buckeyes. “Lots of people make buckeyes, but they do it by machine. Ours are hand rolled peanut butter pieces hand-dipped in chocolate.”

A new home

Joe and Laurie named absolute necessity as the main reason behind the new factory and hometown store. But they wanted to create a space that was both functional and fun for the community.

“There will be a really nice vibe that’s going on all the time,” Joe Reiser predicted before the factory was in full swing. His prophecy was fulfilled. “People serving up espressos and cappuccinos, sitting at the bar, people making chocolates and then people roasting coffee and that whole circle of life of our little business happening.

“It can be really interactive,” Joe continues. “We’re a small community and everybody knows everybody, so now these people get to see not only how all their favorite chocolates are made, but they get to see their favorite buddies making it.”

Laurie likes the idea of employees witnessing their product “going out the door and making people happy.”

“I always tell people, we manufacture and create great chocolates and coffees, but we sell happiness. Because that’s what people are buying,” she adds.

Looking ahead

Although Winans has expanded tremendously since Joe and Laurie took over, things may slow down for a bit now that the new factory is open.

“We don’t want to get so big that we lose quality,” Laurie says. They’re happy with what they’ve achieved so far, managing to remain a community-oriented store in Piqua while opening new locations throughout Ohio, one in Iowa and even shipping internationally.

“We actually shipped chocolates to Belgium once, and we thought that was kind of funny,” Laurie says. She says they’ve also shipped to Canada and Paris—something she’s very proud of.

Between international shipping and their world travels to purchase coffee beans, Laurie said she and her husband are extremely happy with their decision to purchase the company, and the lives they’ve built for themselves in Piqua.

“Joe and I never really wanted to live in a small town, but the business has allowed us to live in a small town and still have a very international flair to our lives,” she says. They’re also proud to help the small town where Winans originated and Laurie grew up.

“The more we grow, the more people we employ in this small town and the more we help the economy,” she says.

No matter how international their lives may become, Joe and Laurie said they’ll always be grateful to the community of Piqua for its continued support.

“[My] favorite part is how the people of Piqua—which is where my family grew up—they’re so proud of us for growing and being successful,” Laurie says. “They feel like it’s theirs too—it’s all of our business.”

The new Winans factory is located at 310 Spring St. in Piqua. For more information on Winans products, factory tours, or to find the Winans nearest you, visit winansdayton.net.

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at KatieChristoff@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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