Dairy Queen Business of Year

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Matt Jacobs, left, Mark Pierce, Mitch Sandlin, Brandon Vaughan and Brad Bailey in front of the Dairy Queen in Franklin. Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen was named Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce's Business of the Year. SUBMITTED/TERESA BEALE

FRANKLIN—As a high school junior in 1965, Mitch Sandlin worked at a Dairy Queen in Franklin for 75 cents an hour.

Today, the Franklin native owns 14 of the soft-serve, fast-food restaurants in Hampton Roads, which do $10 million in sales annually. The chief executive officer for Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen, Sandlin’s stores are in the top 10 percent in sales among 4,300 Chill and Grills across the nation.

That’s one reason Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen, which is based in Franklin, is this year’s Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Sandlin said.

Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen will be recognized during the Chamber’s annual dinner at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at Cypress Cove Country Club. Highground Services is the primary sponsor. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling 562-4900.

Bobby Cutchins and his son, Robby, president and general manager, respectively, for Bobby’s Muffler and Tire Pros in Franklin, nominated Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen, which employs 300, including 110 in Western Tidewater.

Bobby’s Muffler and the Dairy Queen sort of “grew up together.” Initially, both were on Fourth Street in downtown Franklin and then both moved to Armory Drive and College Avenue, where Rite-Aid is now. When the drug store came in, both relocated to Armory Drive, where they remain “neighbors.”

“Mitch has had an outstanding rapport in the community for years,” Robby Cutchins said Monday. “He has multiple locations and he modernized his businesses.”

Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27 did $300,000 in water damage to the Courtland Dairy Queen. While repairs were made, insurance covered employees’ wages.

“It’s amazing to see someone not fold up and get back in business for people who rely on those jobs,” Robby Cutchins said.

A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond with a degree in business administration, Sandlin founded the Dairy Queen on Fourth Avenue in 1972. He co-owned it with Mitch Rabil and the late Helen Rabil, who also owned a Dairy Queen on South Street in Franklin at the time. That’s where Sandlin worked as a teenager.

One year later, he opened the Dairy Queen at 61 W. Windsor Blvd in Windsor and in 1988, the store on Southampton Parkway in Courtland.

Past recipients of the award choose this year’s winner, said Teresa Beale, executive director for the Chamber.

“I think it’s quite an honor because you are nominated by your business peers,” Beale said. “We only do one a year, and there are so many deserving businesses.