TOM DIETSCH with the “chocolate enrober” machine he built. The machine cascades melted chocolate onto creams, pretzels, caramels, nuts and jelly as they pass by on a conveyor belt. Dietsch is retiring from the family candy and ice cream business, Dietsch Bros., on July 1. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By LOU WILIN
STAFF WRITER

Dietsch Bros. co-owner Tom Dietsch, 67, who built some of the Findlay business’s candy-making equipment, is retiring July 1.

His brother, Jeff, also a co-owner of the business, will continue his daily involvement in Dietsch Bros.

Tom Dietsch, who loves to tinker in his shop at home, built a “chocolate enrober,” which cascades melted chocolate onto creams, pretzels, caramels, nuts and jelly as they pass by on a conveyor belt.

“I love the manufacturing side,” he said.

Candy-making involves more manufacturing and equipment than ice cream production.

As businesses, ice cream and candy are opposites.

“Candy takes a lot of people to make it, very few to sell it,” Tom Dietsch said. “The ice cream takes very few to make it, more people to sell it.”

More: ‘The biggest thing with chocolate is patience’

The chocolate candy business has grown a lot over the decades, thanks in part to air conditioning and, more recently, the internet.

That’s not to say it’s been easy. The Dietsch family has had to work hard, often under pressure, to maintain the quality of its candy.

Just a few years ago, Peter’s Chocolate — a high-end chocolate and a key ingredient of Dietsch’s chocolate candy — became unavailable when the supplier was purchased by someone else.

“They closed the plant right before Christmas,” Tom said. Christmas is Dietsch Bros.’ biggest season for candy sales.

“I was really scrambling on the phone all the time, trying to get this, get that. ‘What do you have? What can I get?'” he said, laughing. “It was crazy.”

Industry consolidations also occurred at other times, and Dietsch coped.

“When I couldn’t get some of what we were using, I was taking two other (chocolate flavor ingredients) and blending them to get close to what I had with the one,” he said.

More adversity came in 2007 when the flood brought a foot of muddy water into the Main Cross Street building. Pallets of chocolate which had arrived a day earlier, to be made into Dietsch’s candy, instead went into the dumpster.

“It was sad,” Dietsch said. “It was a huge loss. Sherrie (Jeff’s wife) was writing the check as we were putting it in the dumpster.”

But through it all, Tom Dietsch has always loved the business.

He started as a teenager over 50 years ago, washing dishes and cleaning tables. His father, Roy, and uncles, Chris and Don, were the Dietsch Bros. who owned the business then.

The candy-making operations drew his interest early on. Back then, air conditioned cars and houses were less common, so chocolate sales were confined more to winter, he said.

“As air conditioning became bigger and bigger, chocolate became a bigger part of our business,” he said.

Just how big it could become Dietsch learned through his longtime membership and leadership with Retail Confectioners International. Dietsch learned more about the business by networking with other chocolate makers and sellers and visiting candy-making operations in the United States and Europe.

Chocolate sales grew.

“Candy became such a big gift item, as much as personal consumption,” he said. “It’s a different market (from ice cream) with the gift side along with personal consumption.”

The rise of air conditioning made chocolate a great gift year-round. When the internet arrived, chocolate sales rose further.

Online candy sales continue to grow.

“Our challenge with the internet is not getting more orders than we can handle,” he said, laughing.

Dietsch Bros. has also become a wholesaler of its candy, distributing it for sale at hospital gift shops in Toledo and stores in Findlay, Lima, Toledo and Columbus.

“It’s a fun business,” Dietsch said. “Your customers are coming in to buy a product that’s fun, so your rapport with the customers is great.”

Dietsch also has enjoyed the business when working behind the scenes.

He spent about a year and a half making his chocolate enrober, which coats creams, pretzels, caramels and nuts with chocolate. A key to the chocolate enrober is its digital temperature controllers.

“Temperature is everything in chocolate, to maintain the consistency of the chocolate, the temper of the chocolate,” he said. “Temperature is one of the hardest things to maintain throughout the day.”

When Dietsch retires, his son-in-law, Bryan Smith, will take over chocolate production.

“I’m going to help with the equipment, the maintenance side. I’ll still be doing a lot of that, but I won’t be doing the day-to-day,” Tom said. “I told them I’ll help them out whenever I can.”

One gets the feeling that the business of making candy will remain a big part of Dietsch’s life even in retirement. Days ago, he returned from candy industry events in Pennsylvania, touring shops in Hazelden and attending an annual meeting in Philadelphia.

“You learn so much on tours,” he said.

He plans to keep going to tours and industry meetings to keep learning. But he also enjoys them because people in the candy business are “really nice people,” he said.

Chocolate makers are generous in sharing information with each other, even with direct competitors, he said.

“You would be surprised how many formulas have been shared, ingredients, just stuff in general,” he said. “It’s one of the few industries that is competitive, but yet very helpful with each other.”

Wilin: 419-427-8413
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