Best Hometowns 2013–2014: Gahanna

Gahanna provides a relaxing way of life just outside of Columbus.


Year founded:
Location: Franklin County, 9 miles northeast of Columbus
Population: 33,248
Size: 12.58 square miles
Local Flavor: The name Gahanna is derived from a Native American word for three creeks merging into one: Big Walnut, Rocky Fork and Sycamore Run

Growing up in Hilo, Hawaii, Ava Misseldine whiled away her free time swimming and surfing in the Pacific Ocean. It was, she admits, the kind of sheer bliss that would make anyone envious.

But Misseldine found her personal paradise in Gahanna after opening Koko Tea Salon & Bakery last year. (Koko is Hawaiian for “sweet.”) The Mill Street emporium is filled with temptations ranging from triple-berry lavender cupcakes to lemongrass macaroons. Each is served with delectable brews sourced from her family’s tea company in Hilo.

Misseldine moved to the mainland in 2005, after receiving a full scholarship from The Ohio State University to study chemical engineering. Upon graduation, she began conducting research at a lab, but the work was overwhelmingly stressful.

Inspired by memories of the happy times she spent as a child baking breads and cakes with her grandmother on the Big Island, she decided to follow what she considers her true calling.

“It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this beautiful town, from the parks to the water to the people,” Misseldine says, while putting the finishing touches on a batch of red velvet cupcakes, one of 120 flavors her shop carries. “I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else again.”

And when she wants to get back to nature, all the outdoor enthusiast has to do is step out the front door. She relishes her daily 2 1/2-mile walk along Big Walnut Creek, which meanders through Creekside Park, located across the street from Koko. (Creekside is one of 49 public green spaces totaling 775 acres that dot the Gahanna landscape.)

“It’s the ideal way to take a break and erase the cares of the day,” the baker enthuses.

In fact, Gahanna serves as an oasis of refreshment for body, mind and spirit. L-Yoga Flow offers Reiki and massage. Zodiac, a funky shop known for its gemstone jewelry is the place to get a glimpse of the future through tarot card and palm readings. Ciao Vino Italian Kitchen prides itself on creating authentic dishes based on recipes the owner’s former in-laws brought with them from Foggia, Italy, in 1930.

Gahanna Mayor Rebecca Stinchcomb isn’t surprised that her town garners accolades from visitors and locals alike.

“Tourists are amazed that we’re only 10 minutes away from the urban environment of downtown Columbus,” she says. “Once you visit, you’ll know that Gahanna is truly a world unto itself.”

The city’s reputation as a destination was sparked in the early ’70s, when resident Jane “Bunnie” Geroux was asked to lead a fundraising campaign for the historical society. An avid herbalist, she planted a goosefoot garden replete with lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, marjoram and borage. Neighbors who loved plants began following suit. “Paris has an image, London has an image,” the 89-year-old recalls. “My hope was that Gahanna could eventually foster an image that would bring people from all over the state here.”

In 1972, as word spread and tourists visited to purchase aromatic seasonings, the Ohio legislature declared Gahanna to be the Herb Capital of Ohio.

Today, more than 500 residents proudly volunteer at fetes such as Herb Day in May, the June Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival, autumn’s Taste of Gahanna and the Winter Wonderland holiday lighting display.

Add the school system’s “excellent” rating, awarded by the Ohio Department of Education in 2011–2012; and the success of Gahanna Residents in Need — a faith-based initiative that manages a food bank and offers help with utility payments — and it’s clear why people are proud to call Gahanna home.

“We appreciate what we have,” Stinchcomb explains, “and we work hard to maintain it.”