121 Years and Counting … A Downtown Urbana, Ohio, Business Tradition Lives On

Carmazzi’s Deli & Candy Store, the oldest retail business in downtown Urbana, Ohio, recently ended a 121-year run of family ownership.SONY DSC

However, a ribbon cutting at noon Saturday, April 26 – and grand reopening celebration from 11:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. – will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the business’s continuing tradition. More about the celebration at the end of this post.

Jeff Donay, who recently bought Carmazzi’s from third-generation owner John Carmazzi, has made a few updates to the store with new store manager Nanette Hagan. New paint. Rearranged shelving and merchandise. And some new offerings that you’ll find at the grand reopening.

And Much Is Unchanged

There’s still the bountiful selection of candy that’s attracted kids and young at heart for many years. The store still offers special order fruit baskets. And the iconic gold “Carmazzi’s” lettering, seen by generations, is still arrayed in an arc on the window of downtown Urbana’s oldest building. The red brick Federalist-style structure has anchored the southwest corner of the town square since 1811. For a brief stint it served as military headquarters during the War of 1812.

John and Michelle Carmazzi of Urbana, Ohio

John Carmazzi and his wife, Michelle.

John Carmazzi is thankful to have found someone to continue the tradition. “Jeff Donay likes the history of it,” John said. “I sold it to the right person…. And it’s so good that we have so many people who appreciate our downtown and want to keep it going.”

Donay, a chiropractor who opened his practice in Urbana in 1991, had been looking for property to invest in. He thought he had found one, but suddenly it sold. “Maybe God had other plans,” he said.

Along came the Carmazzi’s building, and he knew he had found more than a property investment.

And he knew just the person to manage the store.

When Nanette Hagan came into his office for an appointment one day, he asked her what she thought of the idea. “Her eyes lit up,” he remembers.

Nanette Hagan, Carmazzi's Deli and Candy Store manager, Urbana, Ohio

Nanette Hagan, the new manager of Carmazzi’s.

Dream Fulfilled

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a food establishment – an outlet for my different talents and creativity,” she said. She runs a catering and baking business, Nanette’s Country Kitchen, and often shares her creations with Dr. Donay’s staff. (Check out her cookbook.)

During the grand reopening celebration she’ll begin selling her sandwiches and salads at Carmazzi’s – along with ice cream from Young’s Jersey Dairy of Yellow Springs.

Hagan fondly remembers the candy store two doors from her grandparents’ house when she was growing up in Iowa. “It was the coolest thing. They would give me a quarter, and I’d walk over by myself and fill a bag. That’s the kind of tradition I want to continue here.”

Frank Carmazzi (in apron) stands proudly in the store that's become an Urbana landmark.

Frank Carmazzi (in apron) stands proudly in the store that’s become an Urbana landmark.

In Good Hands

For John Carmazzi, the transition is bittersweet. But he’s relieved the store is in good hands. At 80, he had become concerned about Carmazzi’s future. While his niece Janet Todd continues to work there, no one in the family was ready to take over the reins and continue what John’s great-uncle, Sam Bianchi, started in 1893, as Bianchi’s Fruit Store.

John’s father, Frank, and mother, Victoria, Mr. Bianchi’s niece, bought the business in 1931, giving it their name – and hours of hard work. They would clear $5, on a good day, during the Great Depression. They ran the store together until Mr.Carmazzi’s death in 1944. John, his brother, Bob, and sister, Rosemary, grew up working alongside them. Two subsequent generations have also worked in the store.

John Carmazzi and his mother, Victoria, in the store in 1974.

John Carmazzi and his mother, Victoria, in the store in 1974.

John, who started waiting on customers before he could see over the counter, acquired the store from his mother in 1952.

Now, as the tradition continues, the store will pay tribute to its heritage with a display that includes an old cash register and scales brought out of storage, as well as photos and other memorabilia.


Grand Reopening and Ribbon Cutting

Be sure to be in on the celebration of Carmazzi’s grand reopening Saturday, April 26, 11:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ribbon cutting at noon.

Grand Reopening Specials: First 100 children through the door on Saturday will receive a free piece of candy. A free small bag of chips or can of pop with every salad or sandwich purchase through May 3.

Location: 100 S. Main St., Urbana, Ohio

Phone: 937-653-7443

New Store Hours

Sunday-Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Carmazzi’s: A Taste of Ohio Folklore

The Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies includes Carmazzi’s in its FolkOhio Archives. Stroll through the online archives, and you’ll find other familiar local treasures – from Freshwater Farms of Ohio to Mumford’s Potato Chips and Crabill’s Hamburgers.

For a previous Champaign Uncorked! post about Carmazzi’s, click here.


Part 3: Made in Urbana, Sold in Urbana

Welcome to the third in a three-part series of posts about products manufactured and available for purchase in Champaign County, Ohio.

Robert Rothschild Farm products at Kroger

Part of the Robert Rothschild Farm display at Kroger in Urbana, Ohio.

About a mile and a half from where they’re made, you’ll find Robert Rothschild Farm gourmet food products at the Urbana Kroger store. Rothschild products also are sold at Mad River Farm Market, just north of Urbana.

Robert Rothschild Farm got its start back in 1976 as a pick-your-own berry farm established by entrepreneurs Bob and Sara Rothschild, who moved from the San Francisco Bay area. In 1984, they began using part of their 170-acre farm’s red raspberry harvest  to make preserves. From there, the product line of Robert Rothschild Farm has grown dramatically to more than 200 specialty food products, including dips, sauces, condiments, preserves, spreads, mustards, pasta sauces and dessert toppings. Many have won gourmet food awards.

The products, manufactured in small batches in Robert Rothschild Farm’s 51,000-square-foot production facility, are sold throughout the continental U.S., at grocery and specialty stores, as well as on the Robert Rothschild Farm website. More recently Rothschild products became available in 37-ounce jars at Sam’s Club and Costco.

In addition, you’ll find Robert Rothschild Farm gift sets during the holiday shopping season at Kohl’s, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble.

The company, which plans for continued growth, has recently partnered with Champaign County and the City of Urbana to extend a sewer line to facilitate expanded production and job growth.


This is the final post of this series about locally manufactured products that are sold locally. However, Champaign Uncorked! will periodically focus on other Champaign County manufacturers. They may not make products you can buy at a store. But local companies manufacture a wide array of  products that make our lives better — from sensors that prevent medical imaging equipment from colliding with us during exams, to automobile frames, to lighting for towers and aircraft.



Your St. Patrick’s Day Guide to Reuben Sandwiches in Urbana, Ohio

How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

I recommend a good Reuben sandwich – the handheld alternative to traditional Irish corned beef and cabbage.

The Reuben’s heritage, however, may not be Irish. As with many foods, stories conflict as to its origin. The two more popular legends – from the early 20th century – trace the sandwich to the New York deli of German immigrant Arnold Reuben or the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, where grocer Reuben Kulakofsky, a native of Lithuania,  concocted the sandwich for his poker buddies.

Whatever the story, the Reuben is right at home at several local Urbana, Ohio, restaurants. My wife, Kay, our sons, Andy and Alex, and I recently checked them out – and found a few variations to the classic grilled Reuben with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on rye.

Here’s our pictorial review:

The Farmer’s Daughter (904 Miami St., Urbana; 937-653-3276) offers two varieties:

Reuben sandwich, Farmer's Daughter, Urbana, Ohio

A classic Reuben, which to my German taste, offered a pleasing, full-bodied sauerkraut flavor. Alex didn’t share my appreciation (“the sauerkraut almost overpowered the rest of the flavors”).


California Reuben at the Farmer's Daughter, Urbana, Ohio

The California Reuben, which substitutes turkey for corned beef and coleslaw for sauerkraut. The sweetness of the coleslaw was a nice counterpoint to the traditional Reuben. Alex thought the sweetness brought out the taste of the rye.


Mumford’s Potato Chips & Deli (325 N. Main St., Urbana; 937-653-3491):

Reuben sandwich at Mumford's Potato Chips and Deli, Urbana, Ohio

Accompanied by a serving of Mumford’s famed potato chips, and a pickle, this Reuben also stands out from the others in its packaging — wrapped up in a rye roll, rather than slices of rye bread. Andy thought the roll lacked the rye taste he savored in the other sandwiches, while Alex reported, “just enough Thousand Island dressing so it doesn’t overpower the other flavors.” Alex is all about balance.


Rock’n Robin Diner (1010 Scioto St., Urbana; 937-484-7625):

Reuben sandwich at Rockin' Robin Diner, Urbana, Ohio

This Reuben is an American classic, right down to the ’50s-style diner where it’s served, on Texas rye, with a pickle. The robust flavor of the corned beef comes to the forefront.


TeaBaggers (127 N. Main St., Urbana; 937-653-7817):

Reuben sandwich at TeaBaggers, Urbana, Ohio

Made in a panini press, rather than grilled, the TeaBaggers Reuben offers another distinction: It’s served with banana peppers — your choice of mild or hot. And it comes with your choice of chips. I agree with Alex that the banana peppers make a good addition and contribute to an overall pleasing taste. To Andy’s taste, though, the peppers distract from “the real Reuben flavor.”


Vintage Roadside Café (1549 S. U.S. 68, Urbana; 937-484-6900):

Reuben sandwich at Vintage Roadside Cafe, Urbana, Ohio

Here’s another classic Reuben, except that the Vintage gives you the choice of sauerkraut or coleslaw. We went with tradition — and it was good, though Kay would have liked a dab more Thousand Island dressing.


Who makes the best Reuben you’ve ever eaten? Please share in the comments below.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Thanks to Alex and Andy for the photography.