“I learned how to do everything on a farm,” said the owner of Sweet Design Chocolatier in Lakewood. “I learned about cheese and how to take care of animals, but I grew up in Europe and there were no cocoa trees. Chocolate was a luxury. But when I took my first bite of chocolate, I knew it was worth living for.”
Rehner, who grew up in Yugoslavia, now Croatia, said she always dreamed of coming to America. She wanted to be an entrepreneur, she said, to create a job for herself and for others.
“I was exposed to physical hard work on a farm,” she said. “College teaches you to think a little more. You want more in life. If kids don’t know how to work hard, or their parents are not strict about it, you may not be ready in a world that asked a lot of you. That hard work helped me here.”
She worked for another chocolate manufacturer when she came to the United States, but it wasn’t how she wanted her cocoa passion to evolve. So, she taught herself how to make chocolate and run her own business.
“I knew how to make my own cheese and wine,” she said, “but there was no Google or YouTube video to watch back then. I had a pretty hard time, but part of survival is you don’t give up. I was determined to figure it out.”
Figure it out she did and in December 1995 she started Sweet Designs Chocolatier in Lakewood. While Sweet Designs has a storefront, the company focuses much of its energy on serving corporate clients who need custom designed pieces for clients and special events. That same amount of care goes into the well-being of her employees. She said she has 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees working at Sweet Designs, and for years she struggled to find health coverage for her full-time workers. Then she learned about the Ohio Farm Bureau Health Benefits Plan.
“For years I have been looking into wanting to do health care for employees, and for small companies it’s really hard to get it,” she said. “Our representative said (the Health Benefits Plan is) one of the best. The fact that this health care plan offers HSA, which helps people plan for a catastrophe, is very valuable and it’s easy to use. It’s a good fit for us.”
Health Benefits Plan details
The OFB Health Benefits Plan is available to sole proprietors and employers of 1-99 employees with headquarters in Ohio. Eligible businesses must be in the agricultural economic sector, measured from “farm to fork.”
She’s also helping to spread the word about the Health Benefits Plan. Rehner is a member of the 10,000 Small Businesses program through Goldman Sachs. She recently attended one of its regional meetings and shared the Health Benefits Plan information with her fellow small business owners.
Paying it forward is something that Rehner sees as essential when having a successful small business. She sees that commitment in her local Farm Bureau’s community work, she said, and adheres to it in her personal life.
“I don’t start with myself. I start with ‘how will this benefit everything around me?’” she said.
“When everything around me is cared for, I feel I will be circled with all that happiness and caring. It’s one of my biggest core values. ‘Be aware of everything around you before you are aware of yourself.’”