Dayton's own Esther Price Candies turns 90 this year
The key to any successful business is to track the quality of your product and to have a willingness to improve on it.
That's the story of Esther Price Candies, which turns 90 this year.
The company has not made a lot of changes to its product — including still hand-tying each red bow that surrounds its signature gold box — and the quality of its chocolate candies still remains a favorite in Dayton and throughout the United States.
“It’s the recipe and the way she made things,” owner Jim Day said of Esther Price’s candies. Photo by Ty Greenlees
Customers have come to appreciate the quality product they find in EstherPrice Candies, owner Jim Day said.
“It’s the recipe and the way she made things,” Day said of Esther Price’s candies. “We use regular, pure chocolate, a Swiss-made chocolate, and we use 40 percent butterfat cream and real butter. We don’t use any added fillers or preservatives. You have to treat our candy like you do butter and put it in the refrigerator so it lasts longer, but that’s how you know it’s good.”
When a neighbor originally approached Day about the possibility of buying Esther Price Candies together, he shot the idea down without much thought.
“I don’t know anything about that -- that’s too big for me,” Day recalls saying, despite experience with his own land-developing and concrete business.
Crystal Schelling ties the signature red ribbon on boxes of Esther Price Candies. Photo by Ty Greenlees
Now, almost 40 years later, Day is glad his friend was persistent.
All it took was one look at a profit and loss statement, and Day knew it was a business opportunity he couldn’t pass up. After six months of negotiating with Mrs. Price, Day and three other Cincinnati businessmen – his neighbor Jim Bates, friend Ralph Schmidt and Schmidt’s father-in-law Joe Haarmeyer – bought the then-50-year-old company in 1976.
Day and Schmidt bought Bates and Haarmeyer out after just a few years, and Esther Price Candies has been owned by the Day family since Schmidt’s passing in 2006.
Esther Price Candies employee Wendy Newcomb creates the cherry center before they are covered with chocolate. Photo by Ty Greenlees
“I thought it could be very profitable,” Day said. “I saw how they were doing and what went on, and I knew right then and there. I already had a job. Jim Bates wanted to run it, so I didn’t have to be here all the time. I still had my land-developing business in the evenings. I did that for four or five years, and then got to the point where I couldn’t keep my mind on anything else so I quit and came up here full-time.”
The company produces about one million boxes of candy per year and has grown from three standalone stores to seven since Day got involved. An additional 87 locations sell Esther Price Candies products wholesale in five states -- Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois.
Esther Price Candies – known for its signature golf box and red ribbon -- have been named “Ohio’s best chocolates” by Ohio Magazine. The company employs about 120 people.
Esther Price Candies cook Scott McAlister mixes a batch of filling fudge. Photo by Ty Greenlees
Price had started the company in 1926 after her downtown Dayton department store co-workers for whom she often made chocolates encouraged her to branch out on her own.
Her venture selling chocolates from her home business continued until 1952 when she opened her first store on Wayne Avenue, which still serves as the company’s headquarters and production facility today.
“When she started, that was during the Depression, and she would make candy at her house, put it in shopping bags and run it downtown on the bus with her daughters and her son carrying candy with her,” Day said. “During the Depression, the only people with money were attorneys and doctors, so they went to all those offices, and all of a sudden she started getting calls back for big orders from these people she sold candy to, and that’s when she got the idea of starting up here on Wayne Avenue.”
Esther Price started the company in 1926 after her department store co-workers for whom she often made chocolates encouraged her to start her own business.
About 18 others had tried to buy the company from Price before she sold to Day and his partners on Sept. 29, 1976.
The original recipes stayed the same, but production grew over time with the help of some new equipment. Day said 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of candies are produced a day.
“We made a lot of the equipment we needed that Esther didn’t have,” Day said. “It was done by hand, but we got the equipment and machinery and we got an extruder that took care of almost 20 people, puts all the candy on a belt, every piece about a half inch apart, which used to be done by hand, and into the paper. We used to keep the belt about half full, but now it’s 100 percent full. We were able to increase our productivity.”
The company went back to being family-owned when Schmidt passed away. Day’s entire immediate family is involved on the board of directors, including his wife, Elaine, and each has a role to play. His son-in-law, Doug Dressman, serves as vice president, and daughter Sandy Brielmaier is secretary and treasurer. Bruce Brielmaier, Sharon McManus, Denny McManus, Barb Dressman and Robert Powell also serve on the board.
Esther Price Candies employees Wendy Newcomb, left, and Tammy Brewer make peanut butter filling for chocolates. Photo by Ty Greenlees
Esther Price Candies boxes are the same as when Mrs. Price was making them herself because “that’s what people like,” Day said.
However, Day also recognizes that people nowadays have different tastes than 50 years ago, so the company has additional specialty items it sells separately from the boxed candies found in Kroger stores around the state.
Esther Price Candies has a partnership with Dayton-based Mike Sells Potato Chips to make chocolate-covered chips, and last year, Warped Wing brewery teamed up with Day’s company to create “Esther’s Lil Secret”holiday beer. Last year’s beer had caramel in it and sold out in two days. This year, the beer will be made with chocolate, and Esther Price Candies will make a beer brittle to pair with it. Day said Kroger will sell the beer in cans, but he didn’t expect the items to last long after the late-November release.
Esther Price Candies workers pack boxes of mixed chocolates. Photo by Ty Greenlees
“People change and the younger people have a different idea of what they like compared to what we started out with 50 years ago, so we’re always trying to come up with something new and unique,” said Day, who notes his favorites are the fudge pieces, seasonal bourbon cherries and sea salt almond bark.
The uniqueness of owning a candy company is what has kept Day involved all these years.
“I enjoy the fact I’m making people happy and creating new items and things of interest,” Day said. “I’ve been like that my whole life – I like to do different things. I like to be different.”
Fudge centers for Esther Price Candies move down a conveyor before being coated with chocolate. Photo by Ty Greenlees
GET THE LATEST BUSINESS NEWS
Like Dayton Business on Facebook for up-to-the-minute business news 24-7
MORE NEWS ABOUT ESTHER PRICE
Dayton wins big for food/drink in Ohio Magazine readers’ poll