Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
When most teenagers begin working their very first job, they probably don’t anticipate eventually owning the establishment at which they are employed and forging a long, successful career at that very establishment. Matt Kraus is no exception, but that’s exactly what happened for the 46-year-old Center Grove native.
Kraus currently owns the Dairy Queen restaurant on State Road 135, where he began working part-time at age 15 as a kitchen food prep assistant.
The year was 1985 and Kraus’s next-door neighbor, a fellow Center Grove High School attendee and Dairy Queen employee at the time, had facilitated an interview for Kraus at the ice cream and fast food restaurant, which led to a part-time position.
“It was fun. I started out working in the kitchen making food, and from there I learned how to do the ice cream,” Kraus recalls. “I kind of worked my way up
By the time Kraus was attending Indiana University to study business and finance he had stuck with the job and was well on his way to a management position. His neighbor purchased the store from the original owner upon his own college graduation and approached Kraus with a business proposal.
“After he bought it out, he kind of made a deal with me that if I stayed with him through college he would eventually sell it to me,” Kraus says.
In 2004, the promise was kept and Kraus took the plunge, officially becoming owner and continuing a career of service to his hometown that he has found both challenging and rewarding.
“It wasn’t really a dream growing up, but when the opportunity presented itself I considered it and thought I’d go for it,” he says. “It wasn’t until college when my neighbor made that proposition that I considered that this would be something I would do as a career, but it’s been good and I enjoy the people here. There are always ups and downs in the industry that keep you challenged.”
The key to Kraus’s success has been putting the customer first and an if-it’s-not-broke-don’t-fix-it approach to keeping local, loyal patrons happy.
“We’ve gone through some changes as far as some menu updates, and we’ve remodeled over the years, but overall the store has stayed pretty much the same and been pretty successful,” Kraus says. “You always want to keep your core principle of treating your customers fairly. If you offer a good product and you’re consistent in how you treat the customer then you’ll be okay.”
Kraus says one of the toughest challenges of being owner of a fast-food establishment lies in presiding over constant seasonal employee turnover.
“Keeping up with staffing, which is ever-changing, is hard,” he says. “You get your college kids back for the summer and then lose them again when they go back to school, so staying on top of that is a big challenge. You have to understand that the kids have to do their thing with school and anticipate how to deal with staff changes.”
For Kraus, restaurant ownership has been a means of keeping in continuous touch with members of the Center Grove community, which he says is one of the factors that keeps him passionate about the job and one of the primary reasons he plans on staying there for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve had some former employees whose kids have grown up and come to work here too,” says Kraus, a soccer and golf devotee who plays in a local adult soccer league during his leisure time. “And some employees will leave and then come back in and bring their kids in which is nice.”
When asked what his favorite Dairy Queen selections are, Kraus says he’s sampled most of the full menu, which includes burgers, salads, sides and hot desserts as well as shakes and signature Blizzards and has come to prefer a few tried-and-true dishes.
“The chicken strip basket without a doubt,” Kraus says. “That’s probably our best seller, food wise. For ice cream, I’d have to go with a classic — the Peanut Buster Parfait. There’s a reason it’s still such a good seller for us. It’s really good.”