By Laura Leite Telescope News
DISHING UP INNOVATION
(Eighth in a series. The pandemic has been a challenge for Republic county restaurants. Many found innovative ways to serve and support the community they call home. Over the next few weeks, the Telescope will take a closer look at local restaurants and how they have persevered.)
Jeanette Sheets contacted Dairy Queen about a franchise in the Spring of 1991, but the idea of her life-long business was planted years before that by her grandpa Clifford Makalous.
“In college, I did a paper on franchises and the benefits of owning a franchise, so I always knew that it was the best path to success,” she says.
“After contacting Dairy Queen, Alan (her husband) and I and my grandma Betty Makalous went to Nebraska to interview,” Jeanette says. “Dairy Queen was very nervous about us starting a franchise because we were very young, and they weren’t sure we were ready for anything like this.”
Jeanette’s grandparents, Clifford and Betty Makalous, supplied the capital. “Dairy Queen was leery about the situation of young owners and grandparents helping them to start a business, but they (Dairy Queen) were willing to give us a chance,” she says.
The lot where Dairy Queen now stands was open and the owners had hoped to put a grocery store on the space, but the family was able to purchase it about the same time as they were approved for the franchise. The Belleville Dairy Queen opened for business on January 20, 1992.
“This Dairy Queen was the first drive-thru in the community and the third Dairy Queen in the Belleville community,” says Jeanette.
“My grandpa (through The First National Bank) financed all three of the Dairy Queens in Belleville with the second one being located in the Main Street Liquor building and closing in the late 1970s,” she says.
“Dairy Queen is a good fit for a community of our size,” said Jeanette.
“My grandpa Makalous always loved this community and wanted to give back to it, so I always knew that if I wanted to start a business here that he would help me,” she says. “It was his way of giving back to the community. He always evoked an entrepreneurship spirit in me, wanting me to own my own business.”
“My grandpa loved Dairy Queen and missed having one here,” said Jeanette.
“We are going on 30 years now and will officially have our 30-year celebration next January,” she says.
“My customers, my guests, are the reason that I come to work every day,” she says “This is a happy place where people come to celebrate after games and school events. Our mission is to create positive memories for all who touch DQ.”
Although the Belleville Dairy Queen is locally owned by Alan and Jeanette Sheets, the Dairy Queen corporation is part of Berkshire Hathaway which has 6,400 restaurants in 25 countries. This network was important as business owners worked through the pandemic and the changes that needed to be made to serve customers and the community, Jeanette says.
“COVID brought growth to me as an operator, in order to serve the community, we had to quickly think of new ways to offer our services,” she says. “We had new registers that were equipped to take mobile orders, but we didn’t have the mobile order space set up yet and that had to be done. We had to think of ways for the drive-thru to be faster and to do that we had to set-up parking space for customers to move forward to wait on larger orders.”
“Dairy Queen corporate shared ideas that helped us. We could have ordered all of the signage from them, but I chose to order locally through Apple(1)Media,” Jeanette says. “Brian and Liz (Isaacson) were instrumental in helping us to get the signage that we needed to make everything run smoothly and keep our customers informed.”
“I also took a picture of the inside menu board and had Fred (Arnold) at the Telescope run copies and handed them out at the drive-thru line so that people could look at the menu ahead of time and shorten the decision time,” she says.
“I made the decision to buy everything I could locally and help my community instead of spending my funds elsewhere,” she says.
“My staff and I became a very tight-knit crew during COVID because no one went anywhere and we didn’t need to hire anyone else for about nine months,” she says. “We even had the students to work during the day because they only had school until noon. I provided bonuses for the staff because of how busy we became.”
“The drive-thru was instrumental in how busy we became during COVID,” says Alan. “People felt safe in their car in comparison to walking into a restaurant during the initial stages of the pandemic,” Jeanette adds.
“In addition, we came up with the family meal that had food for four at $19.99,” she says. Both Jeanette and Alan stated how important the communication and brainstorming aspect is of being part of a franchise.
“Looking back, the pandemic was a time of growth for us, it forced us to quickly establish things that might have taken a longer, and to think outside the box,” Jeanette says.
Dairy Queen is now at full-seating and customers can enjoy new seating and an updated look. Currently, the restaurant is on its third modernization.
“I think that keeping the restaurant fresh and modern helps to make this Dairy Queen successful,” says Alan. “The Belleville community deserves a restaurant that is as new and modern as a Dairy Queen in any other part of the nation. In fact, our Dairy Queen is one of four in the nation that was chosen to taste test the new ‘dirt n worms’ Blizzard.”