#HomeGrownStories – Joe Reiser

Joe Reiser is the co-owner of Winans Chocolates + Coffees. He moved to Miami County when he and his wife, Laurie Winans Reiser, bought her father’s candy company in Piqua, Ohio. The company was started in 1961 by Max and Dick Winans and was called Winans Carriage House Candies. Today, Winans Chocolates + Coffees has 18 stores, 5 of which are in Miami County. The company still makes chocolates the traditional way Max Winans did over 50 years ago. Joe started roasting his own coffee in 2003 in Piqua. In 2015 Winans moved to the former Piqua Daily Call building in downtown Piqua. Visitors can watch their favorite candies being made from the viewing windows in the store. Weekly tours are also offered at the facility. 

How he ended up moving to Miami County:
I moved to Miami County because I married the candy maker’s daughter. Laurie and I met in Columbus. After we dated for awhile I came to Piqua and tasted their chocolates and I was like “I need to marry into this family.” So I did [smiles].

After we got married, Laurie was transferred to Dayton for an 18-month assignment. I still worked in Columbus and Cincinnati so we moved to Dayton. During that time I worked with her dad, Max, just for fun, especially during the holidays. When Max was ready to retire he wanted us to buy the business. He thought we had a special knack for it. We weren’t interested at first, but he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. So we bought it and planned to keep a store here, move production to Plain City and open a store in Columbus. We figured we’d end up living happily ever after with two stores.

We quickly figured out that it’s not that easy. We couldn’t move a 30-year-old production that has long-term, dedicated and amazingly talented employees that live in Miami County. So we dug in. We both kept our jobs when we first bought the business. As I got more and more interested in it I decided to go full time. I left my job at Bristol-Myers Squibb and became a full-time candyman.

How he became interested in coffee and introduced it to Winans:
After we got married but before we moved to Piqua, I convinced Laurie to travel for six months living out of a backpack. I had always had this dream of travelling around the world. I left my job and she was able to take a leave of absence from hers. So we went on an adventure. We went to Australia, Fiji, Malaysia, New Zealand, and many other places. When we were in Japan, Laurie and I got into a huge fight. We were trying to live on ten dollars a day and I spent five dollars on a coffee. I thought Laurie was going to pass out when she found out how much it cost. That cup of coffee changed my life. Our company has progressed over the years after that ultimate coffee experience.

 

At that time my biggest issue was that I was a coffee lover. When I worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb I had a coffee route in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus. I could get a double and triple cappuccino while I was working. My concern was where I would get coffee in Piqua. To solve the problem we installed an espresso machine at the Piqua store. It was pretty much just for me but also open to the public. It was at the time of the growing espresso-cappuccino rage across the country. It took off very quickly.

I want every customer that comes into our stores to be able to have that Japanese coffee experience that I had twenty-some years ago. In 2003 we started roasting about 150 pounds of coffee a week. Now we’re up to two thousand pounds of coffee a week. We’re currently in the process of installing a new roaster. This is our third roaster and it’s a Loring Roaster. We’ll be able to roast seventy pounds in a batch, that’s quite a jump from the twenty-pound batches we roast right now on a Diedrich Roaster.

How Winans ended up opening a store in downtown Troy:
Six months after putting an espresso machine in the Carriage House, we were at the Strawberry Festival parade. I was leaning on a building downtown. I turned around and saw the “for rent” sign. I thought “Hmmm – this looks like a good place for a coffee and chocolate store like we’re doing in Piqua.” So we looked into it. My father-in-law, Max, was adamantly against it. He was not pro-expansion at that point. We still owed him money so he would have preferred we paid him back first.

It was an opportunity we didn’t want to pass up so we decided to go forward with the Troy store. I designed it on a napkin. We built it out almost all on our own. That was 22 years ago this October. It’s still one of our classic designs. Even though we’ve come a long way and have 18 stores now, that store has the core design that works best for us. It’s in a phenomenal location. It has not only enhanced our presence in the county, but it has allowed us to open other stores.

Plans for the future of Winans Chocolates + Coffees:
We want to maintain our identity as we have for the past 55 years. We never want to lose sight of our community and what our community wants from us. We also work hard on keeping in tune with the world. This industry is about keeping up to date and keeping current and that applies directly to coffee and chocolate. That’s part of why I travel so often in the US as well as Central and South America and Europe. I travel to bring those international experiences to our customers. We want to keep current on what is happening that we can bring to the community. Those plans are never concrete because we never know what the next idea might bring. Whether it’s from Seattle or Honduras or Italy. It’s always exciting and fun and it will always be changing.

Wine has the potential to come to our Miami County stores. I would like to do that. Wine is a natural addition to what we do. Wine has many similarities with the tradition and history that chocolate and coffee have. There are the stories of the families and communities from where it comes from. It all fits into that. It is a different product in the sense that it is alcohol-based. But it’s wine — it was created for the sacrament in my eyes. We’ve been calling it the Holy Trinity in Columbus because we have chocolate, coffee, and wine. So it could happen. We don’t know. It will depend on if the community is interested in it and welcomes it. We’re looking into it now.

On the community response to Winans since he and Laurie bought the business in 1993:
The community response has been absolutely overwhelmingly positive for 24 years. We made it very clear when we bought the company that we would not change the way we make our chocolates. Those recipes were created not only by Max but by a lineage of bakers with European and Midwestern American backgrounds. Our candy recipes are a big part of that tradition. We kept the recipes and we kept the concept of fresh in and fresh out. Bakeries operate on that idea: you bake it in the morning and sell it by the end of the day. Chocolate doesn’t have the same routine but that’s the way our recipes are designed. That’s the way we continue to run the business for the past 24 years. That’s the way Max ran the business for the 30+ years he owned it.

I’m sure there was a fear that the out of town son-in-law was coming in and he would make changes that they wouldn’t like. I don’t think that that’s been the case. Adding coffee has not only enhanced our bottom line but it has brought new customers to our business. We have introduced a younger generation to our chocolates. That has happened much sooner than when it would have when we were only the chocolate shop. It’s become kind of a community center so to speak. People gather at our place in the towns that we are in. Not only for a personal cup of coffee but to meet with friends and neighbors, folks from out of town. It’s also a place to buy gifts and treat people in many different ways.

His favorite things about Miami County:
There are lots of things I like about Miami County. Number one is it’s where I’ve lived and raised my kids. Number two is that I’m a runner and it’s flat. It has wonderful bike trails, or running trails, as I call them. I like the fact that there are several small towns instead of one. I like the access we have to bigger cities. I can be in Columbus or Cincinnati in a little over an hour and Dayton in 30 minutes when I want to be. I can also go from town to town and get a totally different vibe — all good — depending on what my mood is.

How Miami County is different from other places he has lived:
I grew up in southern Ohio — I’m an Appalachian. I grew up in a very hilly kind place where people were very open and friendly. At first Miami County doesn’t appear that way because it’s bigger and spread out with the farms. People seem to be more isolated, but as I quickly found out that’s not the case.

I’ve lived in Columbus, Cincinnati, and for six months in London, England. All very different places and places I also love. At the end of the day, it’s about the people and there are good people everywhere. Here it’s a safe happy place. At first glance, it appears to be very different from the small town I grew up in, but it’s not. It’s a very welcoming, open and interested and proud community.

His Miami County recommendations for out-of-town visitors:
I always recommend the trail system. I often take my phone with me when I run. I’ll click pictures and send them to my friends around the country and say “Guess where I am today.” And they’ll guess Wisconsin or somewhere in North Carolina or whatever. And I’m like, “No I’m in on the trail between Piqua and Troy.” There are beautiful sights to see along those trails and just as much bird and wildlife as anywhere else.

I recommend the locally owned restaurants and chocolate and coffee shops [smiles]. You can get a total flavor of the community based on the restaurants that we have. Beppo Uno in Piqua, the restaurants in Troy on the Square or The Boathouse, and Coldwater Cafe in Tipp City. They are all very well-done, high-end restaurants that are also approachable and welcoming. I always want my guests to go there.

Any of the farm festivals and farmers markets are all very authentic and real in this community. We are a farming community. The bigger events like the Strawberry Festival are always big crowd pleasers.


Winans Chocolates + Coffees
310 Spring Street, Piqua OH 45373
Facebook: @WinansChocolate
Instagram: @WinansChocolate
Twitter: @WinansChocolate


Follow our storyteller and interviewer, Courtney Denning, at ThisOhioLife.com.