Sandlin: A successful businessman and ‘miracle maker’

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of six articles, each highlighting one of the 2022 inductees to the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence. Stories on Robert E. Carter, Herman A. Charity, Constance “Connie” Lankford Chase, the late George Horace “Top” Hedgepeth and Ronald Reese are also online.

The Franklin Community Wall of Excellence gained six new names via its 2022 class.

Those being inducted onto the wall due to their outstanding service included Robert E. Carter, Herman A. Charity and the late George Horace “Top” Hedgepeth. Constance Lankford Chase was inducted due to her impact in the world of cultural and performing arts, Ronald Reese was inducted as a result of his athletic accomplishment and J. Mitchell Sandlin joined the wall due to his outstanding career.

The sixth annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony took place Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Cypress Cove Country Club.

As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.

“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a recent Wall of Excellence news release stated. Names and photos of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS.


Franklin Community Wall of Excellence President Jim Jervey noted that Sandlin was selected to the wall in the academic and career category.

“Unfortunately, he was not able to be with us tonight,” Jervey said, but he noted that Clyde Parker would be accepting the honor on Sandlin’s behalf while sharing some details about his life. “(Clyde) is our local historian, and some of the things he will share with you about Mitch tonight… you’ll just shake your head.”

Parker came forward and said, “It is an honor for me to present the information on Mitch Sandlin.” 

He opened by noting that Joseph Mitchell “Mitch” Sandlin was a 1966 graduate of Franklin High School.

“While still in high school, he went to work for Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Rabil at the Dairy Queen in downtown Franklin on South Street,” Parker said. “He worked there from 1965 to 1971.”

During that tenure, Sandlin worked in various capacities, including on night shifts and also on day shifts, during which he operated the “scooter,” selling ice cream on the streets of Franklin.

“While everyone else was around playing, he was working,” Parker said.

Sandlin graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1972. Upon graduation, he was employed with the Virginia Restaurant Association for five months.

“He then returned to Franklin and entered into a partnership with Mitch Rabil in operating the former Rich’s Drive In on 4th Avenue,” Parker said.

Rich’s Drive In was later renamed Mitch’s Drive In.

In December 1972, it was converted into a Dairy Queen.

The Dairy Queen on South Street was operating at the same time up until it closed in 1975.

“Over an extended period of time, Mitch Sandlin gradually assumed more and more responsibility and ownership of Franklin’s 4th Avenue Dairy Queen,” Parker said. “Eventually he expanded his franchise to ultimately include 14 Dairy Queens in the greater Hampton Roads area of Virginia.”

Commenting on his business growth, Sandlin was quoted as saying, “In my first year of business, I had $138,000 in sales and 15 employees. Now, we do $20 million in sales with over 400 employees.”

He is now chief executive officer of Mid Atlantic Dairy Queen Inc.

“For years he has maintained his corporate headquarters in Franklin,” Parker said. “And although he is now a resident of Norfolk, he just recently bought an empty former bank building on 2nd Avenue in Franklin and converted it to be his corporate headquarters.”

For 12 years, Sandlin served on the Franchisee Advisory Council of International Dairy Queen in Minneapolis, Minnesota, representing more than 1,300 Dairy Queens in the southeastern area of the U.S., from Virginia to Florida.

Parker also noted that Sandlin served on the Presidential Advisory Panel for International Dairy Queen.

“Locally and regionally for decades right along with the Dairy Queen business, Mitch Sandlin has been strongly supportive of many and varied community causes, such as providing tens of thousands of Blizzards to churches, schools and various other nonprofit organizations for incentives and awards,” Parker said. “He has been especially supportive of Franklin High School.

“And for many years, he has been a strong supporter of the American Red Cross Blood Donor Program in many different ways, but especially by providing food for area blood drives.”

Sandlin is a past president of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce, and he served on the board of directors of the James L. Camp Jr. Family YMCA for several terms. During the formative years of the Downtown Franklin Association, Sandlin served as its vice president.

“On a regional basis, Mitch Sandlin and Mid Atlantic Dairy Queen have been strongly involved in support of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk,” Parker said.

He noted that Sandlin recently said, “This is the most rewarding thing I have done in my Dairy Queen career.”

Parker highlighted how in the summer 2021 edition of Kidstuff, a magazine published by CHKD, Sandlin and Mid Atlantic Dairy Queen Inc. were featured in an article. One of the things the article made note of was how Sandlin’s enthusiastic support of CHKD earned him a national award from Dairy Queen as the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ Miracle Maker of the Year for 2019.

“Each year, International Dairy Queen bestows this distinction on the one — the one — U.S. Dairy Queen franchise who represents the best of the brand when it comes to their support for local children,” Parker said. “That honor, as we all know, was well-deserved.

“Mitch’s 14 stores garnered an amazing 28% — more than any other Dairy Queen organization — of the total funds raised by the 4,500 Dairy Queens in the United States and Canada,” he added.

He said that last year, Mid Atlantic Dairy Queen stores raised more than $300,000 locally, and that support continues.

Parker said, “Here’s a statement that Mitch recently made: ‘I give the credit to my management team, our employees and our fans, and every penny goes back to the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.’”

Mid Atlantic Dairy Queen Inc. continues to expand. A new store is under construction now in Yorktown. The Windsor Dairy Queen is the highest volume Dairy Queen in the state of Virginia, and that will expand soon, Parker stated.

Because Sandlin was out of town, he asked Parker to accept the Wall of Excellence award on his behalf.

“It is my honor to do so,” Parker said. “He said that he greatly appreciates this honor from his alma mater Franklin High School. He has received much recognition from many different sources, but he values this one the most.”