Ohio Icon: Coons Homemade Candies

Coons Candies, Harpster

Location: Adjacent to U.S. 23, about 14 miles north
of Marion.

Provenance: In 1917, Joseph Coons and his wife, Nellie, opened an ice cream parlor in the tiny Wyandot County community of Nevada. Their homemade ice cream was quite popular throughout the summer, but when temperatures began to plummet, so did sales. Needing a product to sell during winter, the enterprising couple made a deal with a German confectioner who had just immigrated to the United States: In exchange for room and board, he’d teach them about making candy. “He learned to speak English, and they learned how to make toffee,” says Charlie Coons, who is Joseph and Nellie’s great-grandson and the owner of Coons Homemade Candies.

Successive generations of the Coons family made toffee and other candies in Nevada until the 1980s, when Charlie Coons relocated the candy factory and retail store to the Harpster area. Today, Coons operates both facilities with the assistance of his grown children. Daughter Rae Coons helps to manage the factory, while daughter Dani Coons McKain and her husband, Jim, members of North Central Electric Cooperative, make up the family’s fifth generation of candy makers.

Significance: Now famous for its Old English toffee, Coons Homemade Candies not only still uses Joseph and Nellie’s 101-year-old recipe for milk-chocolate-coated toffee, but also continues to hand-pack each box of candy. “We probably make more toffee than any other candy business in Ohio,” says Coons. The company’s legion of devoted toffee-lovers extends nationwide, and its combination candy and gift shop has become a popular destination for locals as well as long-distance travelers on U.S. 23.

Currently: In addition to toffee, Coons Candies produces buckeyes, chocolate-covered cherries, nut and coconut clusters, and creamy walnut caramels. It also makes more than 20 different kinds of fudge, including holiday flavors such as pumpkin pie and cranberry nut. Coons ships both toffee and assorted chocolates in its signature vintage-style candy box.

It’s a little-known fact that: Among the secrets to the success of Coons toffee is placing almonds inside, rather than on top of, the chocolate. “Putting the almonds inside our toffee is one reason it tastes so good and fresh,” says Dani Coons McKain. “Exposed nuts age and get rancid.”