From the July 2000 issue of Startups

Forget the millennium. New Year's '99 was much more momentous for Carrie Gross and Debbie Paszyc. After all, January 1, 1999, was the day they became the proud owners of three Augusta, Maine-area Dairy Queens.

Gross, 24, and Paszyc, 26, have a long history with Dairy Queen; both worked part time for one Augusta store when they were 14, continued working there through college and eventually became assistant managers. After earning a business degree from the University of Maine, Farmington, Gross left Dairy Queen to work for an insurance company; Paszyc, who majored in elementary education at the University of Maine, Orono, became a junior high school teacher.

Before long, though, Dairy Queen was back in the picture. Gross and Paszyc returned as employees to the store where they'd worked and were soon in discussions with the owners, who were looking to sell three stores they owned. A year later, Gross and Paszyc became franchisees, owning two stores in Augusta and one in Hallowell.

During the winter, two of the stores close, but when all three stores are open in the summer, Gross and Paszyc employ up to 70 people who range in age from 14 to 60. "The biggest challenge is with your employees, keeping open communication with everybody," concedes Gross. "We have so many employees of different ages, so to keep track of what's going on with all of them is hard, but we do our best."

That includes rewarding employees. Gross and Paszyc recently took 12 of them on a cruise to the Caribbean. "The old owner used to do that as an incentive," Gross explains. "When we were assistant managers, if we were doing a great job, they would take roughly eight to 12 kids on a trip."

After a great first year, the franchisees are looking forward to the future and hope to bring in sales of $1 million for all three stores by year-end. Although Paszyc would eventually like to return to teaching, she says she won't give up Dairy Queen. And Gross is excited about all the challenges of being an entrepreneur, which was her dream in college. "This was my ultimate goal," she says. "I didn't anticipate it would be a Dairy Queen; I just knew I wanted [to own a business]. Having it come as an opportunity so soon was wonderful for me. I'm very happy."

Make The Call

Dairy Queen: (952)830-0428, www.dairyqueen.com.