A closer look at the small businesses we sometimes overlook. 

It’s easy to take franchise businesses for granted — they’re always there, always familiar, a benign constant in our day-to-day lives. When we go in, we know what to expect. When I go to Dairy Queen at lunch, for example, I know exactly what the menu is going to look like, and I know to look up at the bottom of the second panel, and I know to walk up to the cashier, who will be wearing a blue shirt and black visor, and I’ll say “I’d like a four-piece chicken strips basket please.” The cashier will say “Do you want a drink with that?” and I’ll say, while getting my wallet out, “Yes please, just a medium one.” And then I’ll swipe my card and punch in my PIN and the cashier will hand me my blue paper–plastic cup and a little red plastic number to put on my table, and I’ll go fill my drink up and sit down, and it’s very possible that at this point in my eating experience I haven’t even noticed what the cashier looked like, or how many other customers were in the restaurant, or how many employees were working in the back, or even what the building — outside of the branded DQ décor — really looks like. It’s just a DQ. How much could there be to know?

Turns out, a lot. Tracy Bauman, who owns the Jefferson City location, has been working at one DQ or another for almost his whole life; his family members have been franchisees for more than 40 years in different locations throughout Missouri, and in Jefferson City for the last 25. DQ is part of his DNA. “I grew up in small towns,” Bauman says, “just like Dairy Queen did.”

Having interacted with franchising in such a personal way, Bauman is sensitive to a stigma about franchises: that they’re parachute businesses, faceless stores dropping into the community to collect money and send it back to some corporate office in another state. “As a franchise owner in a small market, I’ve heard people talk about franchises as not locally owned businesses — that’s just not true,” Bauman says.

In a franchise relationship, the store owner — often a local — pays a company to use their brand and receive guidance on business practices. The day-to-day practice of the business for Bauman’s Dairy Queen is roughly the same as it would be for any locally owned ice cream shop. They hire employees, generate the same sales tax, and sometimes sponsor community events. “I’ve lived in this community and raised kids here,” Bauman says. “And we’ve employed thousands and thousands of kids and adults alike.”

Austin Craddock, owner of the Jefferson City Bandana’s Bar-B-Q, got his first job at Bandana’s when it actually was a single store family business — he and his brother earned high school spending money at the original location in Arnold, Missouri, and both now manage multiple franchises. Austin has opened locations in Osage Beach and Jefferson City, and he says the restaurant still has the same magic for him as it did when he was in high school. “Every bit of it,” he says. “I live in Jeff City, and I operate it as the owner. I don’t really think of it as a chain. . . . We operate it like a small, locally-owned business because it is.”

Bandana’s uses restaurant funds to support Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, and the Samaritan Center, among many others. Craddock says his restaurant gets requests for some kind of community involvement at least once a week. They try to help out every time they can — everyone who calls gets at least a gift card. Bauman’s Dairy Queen is always a top performer in the DQ-wide Children’s Miracle Network giving program in addition to sponsoring local events. Lee’s Chicken, another locally owned and operated franchise, donates food, gift cards, and funds to a variety of churches, schools, and charities in the Jefferson City community.

Gary and Helen Fisher opened the Jefferson City Lee’s in 1989, and the Fisher family still owns and operates the store along with two other Mid-Missouri locations, in Rolla and Columbia. “The great thing about the Fishers’ Lee’s is that the money and the success stays in our community,” says Dori Bedell, Lee’s HR director. The Fishers want to uplift and encourage employees by providing access to rewards programs, education reimbursement, family budgeting classes, and GED tutoring.

Franchise employees are the tightest tie that any franchise has with its home community — even for those franchises whose owners live out of state, the employees do not. They’re neighbors, friends, and citizens of the places where they work, and having that relationship to consumers is essential for the success of any business. “We’ve got some really good employees who have been here for a long time — managers, cooks, cashiers, everybody,” Bauman says. “They shake more hands than I do, and they’re the reason we’re successful.

Like I said before, it can be easy for us, as regular community members, to take franchises for granted. It’s easy dismiss them, see them as some kind of outsider, because we can find the same brand in some other city. But the people inside the franchise don’t take their community for granted. And I don’t believe I could live without my four-piece chicken strip basket. 

Dairy Queen

2114 Missouri Blvd.

Opened in 1992

Employees 32

Customers served annually 210,000

Philanthropy $10,000 in donations to Children’s Miracle Network and coupons given to local churches

Lee’s Chicken

1550 Missouri Blvd.

Opened in 1989

Employees 100-plus

Customers served annually 163,000

Philanthropy $200,000-plus

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q

2336 Missouri Blvd.

Opened in 2007

Employees 35

Customers served annually 100,000-plus

Philanthropy $25,000-plus

Learn more about Jefferson City business here.