Twistees celebrates 30th anniversaryPublished 10:01pm Wednesday, June 8, 2011
When the Shufelt family of Niles acquired the former Dowagiac Dairy Queen 30 years ago in 1981, Nancy was a stay-at-home mom with no business background.
In fact, her son, David Jr., had more time in the ice cream business, starting there as a teen-ager in 1980 as a freshman until 1984.
Nancy’s daughters have also been involved in Twistees.
Karla started as the pre-buzzer “guard dog,” alerting her mom when a customer appeared at the window and is still actively involved.
Sister Carrie Shufelt put her time in as a teen and is now training for a health-related career.
Grandson Derek Shufelt worked at Twistees for three years.
Current employees also include Courtney Brisbois, Kayleigh Sheets, Jessica Kopaceski and Britnee Allerton.
Names of previous stalwarts such as Candis Schonekas, Teresa Myers, Lynne Zachary and Kris Worrell crop up fondly in stories accumulated over three decades, like David peppering his mom with chopped nuts through a straw like a peashooter and damaging a wall making his getaway around a tight corner in the cramped confines of their “boardroom.”
“Grandma” was a woman shorter than 5 feet, so they had to attach a stuffed toucan to the light string so she could reach it.
The “mascot” remains.
Nancy took over from “Mother and Dad,” William and Gladys Geminder.
“I have a cousin at Indian Lake and she saw this building” was available, Nancy recalled Wednesday afternoon.
Her husband, David Sr., grew up in Dowagiac.
“When I came back and visited from college, her gross receipts were twice what they were when I had worked there a couple of years earlier,” David Jr. said.
“It took three to four years and gross receipts continued to go up. I lived in Kalamazoo and came back 10 or 15 years after she opened, and she was doing three to four times what our best had been.”
“What really took off and brought it along was Blizzards,” Nancy said of those cold concoctions folding popular candies chunks into ice cream.
“My sister and I put all the ingredients in a cup and took these long metal spoons and stirred them by hand for two or three years because the Arctic Swirl machine hadn’t been patented yet,” Karla said. “We had to grind candy in a food processor and it was so loud customers would be like, ‘What are you doing back there? Chopping rocks?’ ”
Nancy “was a stay-at-home mom,” said David, her oldest. “She said they were going to open this ice cream store when I was in high school. I said, ‘You’ve never done anything like that before, you’ve never even been in business for yourself.’ This is her first and only business.
“She started from scratch with a lot of common sense. I know it’s a seasonal business, but she put in 12-hour days for 30 years. My dad worked manufacturing jobs and we all know what’s happened to the economy around here. This place pretty much supported our family and allowed me to go to college.”
David had a sales career, working as a wholesaler for insurance companies.
“A lot of these agents here in town were my customers at one time. About 2000 I started acquiring apartment complexes of 30 to 40 units. Now I’m up to 700 units. Recently, I was in charge of six states with the insurance company I was working for.
“With 700 units, I made it through this economic pullback in real estate pretty nicely and restructured a lot of my loans. I’m a second-generation small business person myself. I learned a lot of lessons here, like hang on to your cash because bankers only want to lend you money when you don’t need it. I learned from Grandpa and Grandma and my mom to treat people straight up, honestly and no differently than your own family. A lot of people’s interests are self-serving, but I’ve found that if you put yourself second behind your customers and even your vendors, to a degree, because they’re business partners, people will really go out of their way to do things for you. Mom’s always been very genuine and treats everyone very fairly, from employees to family members.”