Sparta Dairy Queen (DQ) is re-opening soon, under new ownership. The occasion will mark the sixth investment opportunity for James Fowler, the store owner; a well-deserved beginning for Jordan Leaf, as the new general manager (GM); and a new twist in the previous DQ business model.
In the last month, the building has been upgraded, to include modern technology and signage, with plans for further building development soon. Hot food will no longer be served under the new contract, but the menu will still feature your favorite DQ ice cream cones, sundaes, and slushies, along with their signature Blizzards, Dilly Bars, and DQ Frozen Cakes. New management plans to give back to the community through fundraising efforts and be an active part of the Sparta. Doors will remain closed until state inspection comes, but the store is ready to open the day after state approval.
Fowler family legacy of DQ stores
Fowler is not new to the Dairy Queen franchise. Fowler explained to the Herald that his parents had also owned several stores. He grew up around DQ and as could be expected, he worked at DQ. “They bought a store in 1979,” Fowler said. “I was about six months old, and they added more stores as I was growing up.”
After “butting heads” with his father, Fowler made a career change into corrections. But then, he saw the opportunity to purchase his own store. “When one came up for sale, that kind of started it all,” Fowler reminisced. “Now, my dad works for me, so it's kind of funny how it worked out.”
Now, Fowler owns five other stores. “This is my sixth store,” Fowler said. “The other one in Wisconsin is Saint Croix Falls, and then the other four are in Minnesota.”
Leaf’s work ethic pays off
The main obstacle for Fowler to be able to purchase the Sparta DQ store was that he would not be able to commute the daily drive. It would be difficult for Fowler to manage a newly opened establishment from a distance. “[Sparta] is over three hours from my house,” Fowler explained. “I couldn’t drive back and forth every day and night. I needed someone I could trust – a GM.”
The secondary obstacle is that Fowler currently has five stores to manage. His current home is a very convenient, central location, for managing the stores on his own. “All the other five stores are within 45 minutes of my house,” Fowler informed the Herald.
The size and location of Sparta reminded Fowler of the towns he has been successful in. He believed that the Sparta DQ store could be a huge success and a great investment. So, he considered offering Leaf the general management position in Sparta, and a possibility of even more in the future. “I saw this one was for sale and I kind of pitched it to him that, ‘Hey, would you want to move, if we bought a store? and be the GM of the store? Then, I'll get you into it, once you get that down?’”
After some encouragement and support, Leaf is now a Sparta resident, opening the Sparta DQ store. “I just moved here in December, from Cambridge, Minnesota,” Leaf said. “DQ was my first job, sophomore year of high school. I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere. I just stuck with it, to see where it led. I guess, I am here now.”
New owner, new upgrades
As the new owner, Fowler is bringing his experience with DQ success. “We'll have mobile ordering, and we will be able to do Door Dash.” Fowler explained some of the noted changes to his business structure and point of sales. “We kind of want to bring this store up into the current times.”
Aside from new management, the building has been upgraded, with more modern technology. “We put in a new headset and new speaker microphone out in the drive through,” explained Fowler, “They just installed that today (last week). We are doing a lot of the stuff that should have already been updated.”
The easiest difference to note about the Sparta DQ stores is the new signs that were recently installed, on January 4th, 2024. “It is the newer version DQ logos on the sign and building,” Fowler said.
Signs are just one way Fowler plans to draw more people into the store. Fowler intends to add additional lighting around the store. “We definitely want to get more lights on the outside, so it's inviting and actually looks open,” Fowler said.
No more grill, only chill
Due to franchise contracts and the smaller size of this store, the Sparta DQ store will only be serving ice cream related products. “Unfortunately, with the DQ contract, a couple things changed, so we won't have food anymore and we don’t have OJ [Orange Julius],” Fowler explained. “We looked at it and it was the building. It is just really small to try and do the whole food thing right.”
While Fowler could make changes to the structure and add the grill back, Fowler told the Herald that those changes would not come from him. “I'll leave that for Jordan,” Fowler joked. “I have got to give him something to do. If he buys it, he can do all the new stuff.”
When asked about DQ’s famous ice cream cakes, Fowler assured the Herald that they, too, will still be available for purchase. “We have hired a cake decorator, and it looks like she has some very good cake decorating skills,” said Fowler.
Giving back is the DQ thrill
For Fowler, a perk of being a DQ owner has been his ability to be a new, contributing part of communities. Fundraising is one of the ways Fowlers gives back. To give an idea of what to expect, Fowler provided an example of a previous successful DQ fundraiser he created. “In Cambridge, we did just one night,” Fowler explained. “We call it a ‘Blizzard Brigade’, and that night we donated all the money from the from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. We bought a whole book vending machine, like a vending machine, but it dispenses books, for the primary school. We like to do a lot of stuff in the town and, you know, actually be a part of the community like this.”
Both Fowler and Leaf agreed that it was exciting to get to be a part of a new community, like Sparta, and they believed that the community will be impressed with the changes. “I think once people give us a try, they'll see that things have changed,” Fowler said. “And, you know, hopefully for the better.”
The Sparta Dairy Queen is now open! You can use the drive-thru or walk in and order.
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