Five generations of confectioners: Local company has lifelong passion for making chocolate

Chocolate is a passion for many people. And there are arguably some of the top chocolatiers in the nation right here in the Miami Valley who have been handcrafting chocolates for decades.

Winans Chocolates originated in Piqua and began in an 1840′s era carriage house. “Carriage House Candies,” included the store front and adjacent house and a chocolate factory located just down the street. For Wilson Reiser of Dayton, whose parents bought the company from his grandfather in 1993, growing up surrounded by chocolate was a young boy’s dream come true.

“By the time I was two or three years old, I would run lunch over to my dad and steal candy while I was there,” Reiser said. “It was very integrated in my childhood.”

Founded in 1961 by Reiser’s grandfather, Max Winans, and Winans’ brother, the company can trace its roots back even further. In fact, five generations of Winans were bakers and confectioners.

“While I was growing up, the company started to grow steadily and my family opened a second location in Troy,” Reiser said. “We started franchising the business in 2010.”

What started with lunch runs when he was barely out of diapers, eventually became a regular full-time gig for Reiser.

“I developed a passion for golf,” he said. “And I needed something to pay for my new hobby!”

At the age of 12, Reiser was doing deliveries, working in the chocolate factory and training as a barista to prepare the newly added coffee offerings. At 16, he travelled to Seattle, Washington, to be formally trained as a coffee roaster.

“I worked in our stores and roasted coffee all through high school,” Reiser said. “We even spent time visiting Central and South America to go to coffee farms.”

Though Reiser grew up surrounded by the candy side of the business, coffee became his focus, and he would often roast coffee for 12 hours a day while on breaks from college.

Reiser decided to attend the University of Montana because he loved the mountains and the easy access to snow skiing, fly fishing and hunting Montana offered. He majored in political science and worked summers waiting tables at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park. His heart and mind were seemingly as far away from Piqua, Ohio, and chocolate as they could get.

“I met my wife to be, Lindsay, in Montana,” Reiser said. “And she happens to be from Ohio, too.”

After graduating form college, Reiser came back to Ohio to attend law school at Ohio State. His plan was to practice law and ended up landing a position at Vorys Law Firm in Columbus.

But the chocolate business remained very much a part of his life and Reiser knew he needed to step up after the COVID-19 outbreak hit in 2020 and help his family.

“In July of 2020, I joined the family business full time,” Reiser said. “I enjoyed practicing law and my colleagues, but I wasn’t in love with what I was doing.”

The global pandemic changed the trajectory of many lives, including Reiser’s, who looked at it as an opportunity. His parents were both getting older, and his grandparents had passed away. Winans Chocolates + Coffees had to figure out how to not only survive the pandemic, but to also thrive in the unprecedented economic downturn.

“I found myself worrying about the family business all the time while I was working in Columbus,” Reiser said. “I was spending eight hours a day working for Vorys and then another eight hours helping my family’s business.”

Reiser threw himself into researching things like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) rule, mask mandates and gathering restrictions. He strategized on ways Winans could weather the storm.

“I discovered that the family business is ultimately where my heart is,” he said.

Now CEO of Winans, Reiser has worked side by side with his parents until the couple decided to take a step back at the beginning of this year. His uncle, Andy Winans, remains involved as an advisor and a resource.

“Our vision is to become Ohio’s chocolate brand,” Reiser said. “We are a traditional middle America candy store that offers a unique confectionary experience.”

Today, there are 20 Winans locations throughout Ohio, 15 of those franchises. Reiser said his goal is to have 50 locations by 2030 and he plans to do this by empowering small business owners who want to own their own candy businesses.

“Small business is the backbone of our economy today,” Reiser said. “Franchising allows us to maintain high standards and maintain control over manufacturing process.

That’s important to the company since they continue to use the same recipes Reiser’s grandfather developed in 1961. An original 1913 Hobart branded mixer is still in use at the Piqua candy kitchen, as are original copper kettles.

“Our mission is to bring joy to people,” Reiser said. “There is nothing more fulfilling than watching someone taste our chocolate and know how much care and knowledge has gone into it.”

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