Like most Ohioans, I never met Esther Price or Marie King. Since they not only created my two favorite candy companies – Esther Price Fine Chocolates and Marie’s Candies – but also have sweetened the lives of countless people, their achievements as both pioneering female entrepreneurs and outstanding chocolatiers deserve recognition during Women’s History Month.
Esther Price’s story began in the early 1900s when she learned to make to fudge in home economics class at school. When Esther grew up and married, her homemade chocolates became so popular with her co-workers at Rike’s department store in Dayton that she decided to start her own candy company in 1926. With children to raise, Esther made and sold her candies out of her home for decades, but by 1952, she was successful enough to open her first store on Wayne Avenue in Dayton.
Esther’s insisted on using only top-quality ingredients for her hand-dipped chocolates, which she packed in gold boxes tied with red ribbons. In 1972, Esther sold her eponymous company to Cincinnati businessman Jim Day and his partners, and today Day and his family own and operate Esther Price Fine Chocolates.
Although Esther Price candies now enjoy a nationwide customer base and the company has multiple shops in the Dayton-Cincinnati area, its headquarters, candy kitchen, and flagship store are still at Esther’s original Wayne Avenue location.
The spacious store is housed in a modern brick-and-stone building in an urban neighborhood near the University of Dayton campus, and I love going there because it’s such a genuine part of Esther’s legacy and the Dayton community.
Elegant touches like chandeliers and fringed draperies in the store’s big front windows convey the company’s pride in continuing to use Esther’s recipes and signature gold-and-red packaging, while an oversized photo of Esther and signage about its history reflect a strong sense of tradition.
And of course, the store’s selection of chocolates is phenomenal, from the best-selling box of assorted milk and dark chocolates (the huge and creamy chocolate-covered cherries are my personal fave) to seasonal items like solid chocolate Easter bunnies.
Its founder was Marie King, a farmer’s wife whose husband Winfred was struck by polio in 1941. Marie began making candy to thank the many friends and neighbors who helped her care for her wheelchair-bound spouse. One of those neighbors encouraged Marie to purchase some commercial candy-making equipment, and in 1956, she began a home-based business in West Liberty, dipping chocolates in her kitchen and turning a spare room into a tiny shop.
Marie’s Candies now occupies a 1926 train depot that her son Jay King and his wife Kathy renovated after they took over the company in the 1970s. The quaint and cozy store features a stained-glass window depicting Marie, and thanks to beautiful decorations that change with the seasons and holidays, it always looks inviting and feels special.
Currently operated by a third generation of the King family, Marie’s Candies has stayed true to its roots and still produces the very first chocolate – Peppermint Chews, which features a taffy-like, mint-flavored center – that Marie ever made as well as her signature Tur’kins, a pecan-and-caramel filled chocolate that Marie herself named by combining the words “turtle” and “King.”
Every March, the company also makes its unique butter cream and cinnamon “Irish Potatoes,” and for the Easter, Marie’s gorgeous egg-shaped candies are guaranteed to brighten everyone’s basket.
For more sweet treats, Find It Here at Ohio.org.