Openings: Winans Downtown marries three of life's great pleasures

Erin Edwards
Miles and Monica Thomas with Laurie and Joe Reiser at Winans Downtown

Chances are that chocolate, coffee and wine are among the items on your list of things you wouldn't want to live without. Downtown Columbus now has a shop dedicated to that trifecta of PG-rated hedonism.

The Piqua-based Winans Chocolates + Coffees opened this summer at 216 S. High St. in the Highpoint mixed-use development. Local franchisees Monica and Miles Thomas (who also own Winans in German Village) were certainly strategic in picking the location of the flagship Columbus store. You can imagine trips to the shop for coffee after free exercise classes at Columbus Commons just around the corner or stopping in for a glass of wine and truffles before a night at the nearby Ohio Theatre.

Winans' newest shop is the company's 18th, the third in the Columbus market and, at 2,000 square feet, the largest. Open seven days a week, the Downtown location is designed in the classy aesthetic of the moment: all gray tones, white and black. The shop is divided into thirds: a retail section for its chocolates and coffee, a seating area and a wine bar offering wines by the glass or bottles to take home. (There's also a patio and a private room for tastings and cupping events.)

It's a big moment for Winans, a family-owned company that goes back four generations. Winans' corporate owners Joe and Laurie Reiser purchased the business in 1993 from Laurie's father, Max Winans. The fourth-generation baker and Navy veteran wasn't fond of rising at 3 a.m., according to Joe. Instead, Max started developing his family's generations-old confections recipes. In 1961, Max and his brother Dick opened Winans Carriage House Candies in Piqua, while also running a bakery in Bellefontaine. In the '70s, the brothers split up the businesses—Dick taking the bakery and Max taking the chocolate business.

The story goes that 28 years ago, the Reisers quit their jobs in Columbus and backpacked around the world. When they returned, the couple lived with Laurie's parents in Piqua while they interviewed for jobs. It was during that period (which happened to be the busy Christmas season) that Joe first worked for his father-in-law, the chocolatier.

Joe got a job with Bristol-Myers Squibb, the family moved to Dayton and that was that. When Max Winans decided to retire, he approached Joe and Laurie twice about keeping the business in the family. The second time, Joe says his father-in-law made them a deal they couldn't refuse. And they didn't.

“We bought the business initially with the plan of moving production to Plain City and opening a store in Columbus,” Joe says. “This is 24 years ago, and we soon discovered it's not that easy” to move production. The Reisers kept up their primary careers until five years in, when Joe decided to quit his job, dive into the family business, move to Piqua and make it work. But, crucially, this was in the mid-'90s, and Starbucks was rapidly spreading the second-wave coffee gospel. Joe decided to add an espresso machine to the Piqua shop—mainly to feed the “three-cappuccino-a-day habit” he'd developed while working in sales.

The Reisers' first Winans store outside Piqua was in the next town over, in Troy. “These two are like Columbus and Ann Arbor—they hate each other,” Joe says his father-in-law counseled. As an outsider from Portsmouth, Joe didn't get the animosity. His thought was: “But there's people there, and they want our product.”

The Reisers opened their Troy store in 1995, and it was there that Joe added the company's first full espresso bar. Again, he had to sell his non-coffee-drinking father-in-law on the idea. “We had a friends-and-family night before we opened, and he came in very pale. He was like, ‘They'll never pay $2 for a cup of coffee.' I said, ‘I know—they'll pay $4.'”

Winans started roasting its own coffee in 2003, and Joe now the travels world to buy coffee for the company, which just invested in a 35-kilogram, eco-friendly Loring Smart Roast roaster.

Joe says the goal was always to be in Columbus. He went to Ohio State and worked in politics at the Statehouse (where he met Laurie). He remembers parking close to where the new Downtown shop is now.

“This is the real interpretation of what we wanted to do,” Joe says. “I remember several years ago Mayor [Mike] Coleman saying, ‘Columbus needs swagger.' And he was going to work hard to do that, and I think he's done it. I think the swagger of the city is pretty amazing.”

Speaking in wine terms, the neighborhood around the new Winans may still be a little young as businesses anxiously await construction of new apartments and condos. But Joe sees positive signals in the mix of residents in the surrounding neighborhood. “The amount of multigenerational people who live down here is pretty fun,” he says. “It's not just millennials. There's a lot of empty nesters, there's a lot of in-between, and that's who we cater to: absolutely everyone.”

Pairing Up

Beginning in August, Winans' Downtown location will offer scheduled wine tastings and chocolate pairings. “We often start with drier reds and move toward sweeter dessert wines when we do pairings, which is the opposite order of a general wine tasting,” says Winans owner Joe Reiser. He recommends three pairings to get you started.

1.Winans Double Dark Meltaway Chocolate & 2014 Disruption Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington)

“This is a smooth, well-rounded cabernet that still provides the big, fruit-forward punch followed by black currant, some spice and a nice chocolate finish.Paired at room temperature, you will experience a lingering, deep chocolate finish from both the wine and chocolate.”

2.Winans Sea Salt Caramel & 2015 Gianfranco Alessandria Dolcetto d'Alba (Piedmont, Italy)

“The slightly sweet notes of this dry red wine dance in your mouth as you chew the soft caramel. The buttery notes of the caramel bring forward the rounded finish of the wine.”

3.Winans Lemon Butter Cream & 2014 LOLA Chardonnay (Calistoga, California)

“Customers really enjoy the citrusy notes of the wine with our Lemon Butter Cream.The well-balanced and structured wine is a perfect match to the … intensity of this chocolate.”

Winans Chocolates + Coffees

216S. High St., Downtown,