#HomeGrownStories – Laurie Reiser

Laurie Winans Reiser has lived in Miami County for most of her life. When she didn’t live in Miami County she lived in Dayton and later Columbus where she met her husband, Joe Reiser. Together they own Winans Chocolates + Coffees. Laurie’s father and uncle started the Piqua candy business in October 1961. She was recently interviewed for our #HomeGrownStories campaign.

On living in Miami County:
Let’s say that I’ve been here my whole life minus twenty years. I’ve lived in Ohio my entire life. The twenty years when I didn’t live in Miami County I was in college and I lived in Dayton and Columbus. My family was living in the area in the 1930s but even before that, we had relatives here in the mid-1800s. We had relatives that owned some land next to the Johnston Farm where Colonel Johnston lived.

Was she planning on staying in Miami County?
No, as a matter fact I was definitely not going to stay in the area [laughs]. I had international aspirations and aspirations to live in a big city. I worked for Xerox and lived in Dayton after I graduated from college. Dayton wasn’t quite big enough for me — I wanted to move to Columbus. After a good sales year, I told Xerox that I was moving and if they wanted to give me a job in Columbus that’d be great [laughs]. And they did! So I moved to Columbus and was there for 15 years or so.

How she met her husband, Joe Reiser:
I was a sales manager for NCR for their computer division. One of my sales reps sold computers to the State of Ohio House of Representatives. He said there was a guy there that he wanted me to meet. I said I didn’t want to meet him [laughs] I was going through a phase where I felt like I was doing just fine without a man! My sales rep ended up introducing me to Joe later at this little café called Mary’s in the bottom of the Statehouse.

On taking over Winans Carriage House Candies:
When Joe and I got married in Columbus, we figured we’d stay. NCR wanted to transfer my position to Dayton so Joe and I decided to take some time off and travel around the world. Joe left Kodak and I took a leave of absence from NCR so we could go backpacking. We were going to be home for a quick two-week break from backpacking and then go to Europe for another six weeks. But when we got home my dad had a heart attack. We ended up staying home to be with him and help out with my mom. I took care of my mom, she had MS and was bedfast at the time. My dad quickly recovered (it was not a bad heart attack) and Joe worked for Dad making candy. That’s when Joe fell in love with the business and Dad thought Joe was good at the business. About a year after my mom passed away my dad decided he was ready to retire. He called me and my brothers and asked if we wanted to buy the business. I don’t think we would have approached him at that time to buy the business. But there was a good chance the business would leave the family unless we bought it when we did. Dad didn’t want someone who would buy the business and manage it from afar, he wanted someone who would be hands on. That’s when we decided to move to Piqua.

On the community response to Winans Chocolates + Coffees:
The community has been extremely supportive. It’s been very touching, actually. I think people were glad to see the business handed down to the next generation. They seemed happy to see the energy that Joe and I brought to the business. I think they were excited by the fact that Joe had the foresight to see what a big deal coffee was going to be. He put Miami County in the specialty coffee scene long before it would’ve happened on its own. When we put our espresso machines in the Piqua store and then in Troy they were the first in the area. I mean you probably couldn’t count all the espresso machines in the area right now! People like “tradition” but they like “fresh and new” too. We’ve done a unique job of combining those two. People find our trips to “origin” very interesting. Joe and I go to countries where chocolate and coffee are produced to learn about how both are grown and harvested. People want to understand coffee and chocolate. It’s like wine and specialty beer — people want to learn and be able to do some things at home. I think the next phase is the coffee and chocolate craze! We educate ourselves about coffee and chocolate so that we can educate our customers — and it’s fun!

On her involvement with the local community:
Joe and I have both been active in the community by serving on boards and that type of thing. We like to get involved in things that involve youth and keeping active as well as music and the arts. We’ve both been active with Muse Machine in the past and we’ve been taking turns being on the Mainstreet boards. We’ve worked a lot with CISV (Children’s International Summer Villages). It’s interesting because I was a little hesitant to move back to a small town because we loved Columbus. CISV is one of the things that helped us decide to move to Piqua. I knew that there was this global youth organization in the area that our kids could get involved in. CISV gave them a bigger view of the world than what they would normally experience in a smaller town. I was active in CISV when I was 11 and both of our children were involved and Joe and I have been involved. Even though our kids are grown now it’s something that we continue to be involved in because we believe in it. Youth from a small, rural, American town need to understand the bigger world. When they grow up they’re going to be living in a very global world. CISV is the only organization that I know that can open their eyes to that.

What she loves most about Miami County:
The support from the community. It’s fun to be one of the many businesses in Miami County that people are excited to bring their friends to. People like being from somewhere that is unique, and our small town has things to offer that larger towns do not. I’ve had a lot more fun in the business than I thought I would. The people are what make Miami County great! We have friends from around the world who come and visit us and they think this is the greatest place in the world! We don’t have traffic. We have beautiful sanctuaries to visit. We have a great quality-of-life.

The beauty of living in not only a small town but the town that you grew up in is that I know almost everybody. I have a story with almost everyone here. Our friends from out of town can’t believe that! I have friends that have left their hometowns and moved to the city and they don’t have those connections. It’s also so easy to get anything done. If we have anything weird or different or hard we need to get done we have people that are willing to hop in and help us. As we are willing to help any of them!

Her Miami County recommendations for out of town visitors:
Besides coming to see us, having a cup of coffee or going on a tour, my recommendation is to visit Johnston Farm in Piqua. It’s my favorite place in the world. I have friends from other parts of Ohio and Johnston Farm is their favorite Ohio historic site as well. It’s rich in so many ways and there’s something there for the entire family. The kids can run around outside and play games like kids did in the 1800s. You can go for a walk in the fields and look at the horses or the couple hundred-year-old barns. You can learn about the Indians and the glaciers — it’s all there. You can ride a canal boat! We always take people from outside of the country to visit Johnston Farm.

We also have a lot of nice restaurants, from burger joints to good breakfast places — we frequent them all [laughs]. I love The Taste of the Arts in Piqua. That’s a fun well-done event and it revolves around food [laughs]! I like the Troy Strawberry Festival and I like the holiday festivals that Tipp City does. Charleston Falls is a great park as is Hobart Preserve and Garbry Big Woods. The Piqua Linear Bike Path is fantastic!

Winans most popular item over the years:
I would say our caramel. Hand wrapped karamel kisses, chocolate covered caramel and the caramel in our Wurtles. And our toffee that we’ve been making for a long time. At the holidays the brittles and the mint jewels are popular. But I would definitely say that caramel is number one.

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.