Keeping It Cool
Local Dairy Queen GM Talks Success & Community Focus of Hendricks County Locations
Photographer / Amy Payne
Dairy Queen is a staple in any Midwest town, and Jill Choate is proud to be the General Manager of three of them: Avon, Clermont and Plainfield.
Her background hasn’t always been in the sweets business. She worked in accounting for more than 30 years. When the payroll company she was working for closed, Mick Linn approached her about working for him. Linn owns three westside stores.
That was over 13 years ago and Choate plans to sit it through to retirement.
“I do it all,” Choate says. “I do payroll, scheduling, maintenance, accounting, end of the year reporting, taxes, grocery shopping, hiring, and marketing.”
She tries hard to hit every single store at least every other day, and sometimes daily, to keep up with her staff and work.
She’ll say she can’t do it without good help though, and her store managers at Avon and Plainfield are about as friendly and hard-working as they come.
“I have been so blessed in that category,” Choate says. “We love to hire and promote from within. That’s really big for us. We really like giving people chances and opportunities to be great.”
David Lucas manages the Avon location, and Paul Acton manages the Plainfield. While both men are very different, they each bring their unique giftings to their individual stores.
Acton joined the Dairy Queen crew in Plainfield in 2010 and has since worked his way up to manager.
“Everyone loves working with him,” Choate says. “He is so laid back, so easygoing. When he came to us, he was so shy. Now he’ll do anything for anyone.”
With Plainfield being a treat store, meaning it only serves sweet treats and a limited food menu, the blessing of a good manager means the store can manage and crank out one of its biggest specialties: ice cream cakes.
“We average 280 cakes a month in Plainfield,” Choate says. “Sometimes we’ll even do that many in one day for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas. Plainfield has some very good workers who are excellent cake decorators.”
The Avon location is also a treat store, and Lucas loves managing there. At 74 years young, he has a food industry background and doesn’t mind the 45-minute commute from the southeast side.
“I don’t mind the drive for three reasons,” Lucas says. “One, I love my job. Two, I love my customers. And three, I love working with young kids.”
Choate adds that they hire mostly teenagers for their staff. Lucas enjoys filling the role of job mentor to the kids.
“Working here in a fast-food environment is the best experience for a child,” Lucas says. “It teaches social skills and work skills. It’s a challenge to get young kids to learn to pay attention to details and duties.”
Choate vouches for Lucas, saying he often will recognize regulars when he sees their car pull in and have their order ready before they even get to the window.
“He really is what makes this particular store so great,” Choate says. “Customers come first with David. He wants to make people happy.”
Lucas’s attention to staff and detail have paid off in recent years. The Avon store received the PRIDE (Personal Responsibility in Delivering Excellence) award two years in a row from Dairy Queen’s corporate office. This award signifies that the Avon store has achieved a high level of cleanliness and food safety. Once a year, there is a PRIDE assessment that occurs on an unannounced day and time, which includes a surprise inspection.
“We take great pride in that,” Choate says. “I really think it’s because of our management and staff. They really go above and beyond to do everything they need to do to keep the store clean.”
Lucas agrees. His system is to give each kid a certain responsibility within the store. One might be in charge of keeping the ceilings clean and the lights working, for example.
“It’s really a combination of working together and being a good team,” Lucas says. “I think if you give every employee a little bit of responsibility, then they take more pride in their work.”
The store employs mostly teens from Avon, Danville, Plainfield and Clayton. They all get along together, and having students from different districts helps to space out times they ask off, such as prom and graduation.
“I love being able to interact with the community,” Choate says. “I am from the east side of Indianapolis, and I love meeting the regulars here.”
Ironically enough, she doesn’t have a favorite treat to enjoy because she’s lactose intolerant, though she’ll sometimes indulge in a cherry freeze. Even Lucas doesn’t indulge much in the frozen treats.
“I bet I haven’t even had a full blizzard since I’ve worked here,” Lucas says, laughing.
Choate is also proud of the impact Dairy Queen has on the local community. In addition to regular spirit nights that benefit different groups and schools, Dairy Queen regularly donates to many charities in Hendricks County, including Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, Gathering Together, and all the local schools.
While the store contributes plenty to the community, it’s also a kind of local watering hole for families, who swing in for dessert after sports practices, back-to-school nights, or just to be with friends and family. Most summer evenings, the patio is filled with patrons lining up for their favorite frozen treat.
Choate wants the community to know that new fall blizzard lineup will be revealed soon. She also emphasizes the Avon location does do ice cream cakes, even though it’s just a drive-up store. Cakes can be ordered online.
She prides herself in providing a place people come to socialize and be happy.
“We’re very fortunate in this store,” Choate says. “We rarely have upset customers. Most of them know if they have a problem, they can come talk to us and we’ll fix it.”
Dairy Queen is located at 325 W Main St in Plainfield.