“It’s been a great 19-year run…and while we hadn’t really planned on stepping away for at least another couple of years, you never want to look a great opportunity in the eyes and not take it seriously.” The words of Tom & Jean Cellentani, who have owned and operated the Dairy Queen properties in St. Joseph and Stevensville for nearly two decades. However, both units have been sold in recent weeks to a South Bend partnership, having changed hands at the beginning of the New Year bringing that great run to a close, and the transition to completion.
Cellentani says he told his employees of the sale late last month, and they’ve had the opportunity to meet the new guys and Tom will be the first to tell you that it is about as close to a perfect match for the transition as he could hope for.
The new owners are Brian Frick of South Bend and his partner David Ulman from Rolling Prairie. Frick has been involved with Dairy Queen virtually his entire life, with his parents owning the South Bend DQ since 1977 until he bought it from them eight years ago.
The Cellentanis have long espoused a philosophy of taking first rate care of not only the customers who cross their paths every day, but also to take top notch care of their employees while together they work for the betterment of the community at large.
Tom tells me, “We actually ended up pulling the trigger a couple of years sooner than we would have anticipated, but they (the new owners) wanted to expand and they contacted us about making a deal.” He adds, “I know that they share the philosophies of taking care of the team, the customers and giving back to the community, and that’s about as close a perfect match as we could hope for in selling the properties to new owners.”
Tom wasn’t sure whether to characterize his status after New Year’s Eve as being “unemployed or retired.” He says it could change day-to-day as he peruses the landscape before him. One thing is certain, Michigan’s Great Southwest will continue to be home to the Cellentani clan for “likely the rest of our lives.” He says, “We’re staying here, we have a cottage we love in Sister Lakes, so there’s no need for a beach in Florida – besides, we absolutely love St. Joseph and the surrounding communities and this is our home.”
It’s that same overwhelming love of the area that attracted Brian Frick in the first place. He says, “We looked at quite a few other Dairy Queen properties, but this is such an incredibly beautiful area and Tom has done a spectacular job with these two stores. It looks like they’ve done very well over the years, and we’re hopeful that will continue to be the story going forward.” Frick is very excited about the take over and says that he and his wife will relocate to a home much closer than their current home in South Bend in the not too distant future.
For his part, Tom won’t be without another passion of his. The Cellentanis own a couple of residential real estate properties that they lease and that provides “a nice little monthly income.” As a “fairly decent handyman,” Tom acts as the respondent to issues related to his residential holdings which he also enjoys taking care of.
Brian says he and Tom have been friends since each got into the business of Dairy Queen, and they had talked from time to time about Tom’s exit strategy and how the transition could take place upon his retirement.
Brian is also owner of Frickman Enterprises, a venture launched about half a year ago, and his nearly 28 year affiliation with the Dairy Queen Grill n’ Chill should make the evolution even smoother than ever. He and Ulman now own the St. Joe Dairy Queen on Niles Avenue and the Stevensville shop on Red Arrow Highway.