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Q&A with Dairy Queen CEO John Gainor

Dairy Queen CEO John Gainor says there is an effort to make the upside-down handoff of Blizzards more consistent at U.S. stores.

Katherine Snow Smith | Times

Dairy Queen CEO John Gainor says there is an effort to make the upside-down handoff of Blizzards more consistent at U.S. stores.

ST. PETERSBURG — John Gainor, CEO of Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen, visited All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine on Thursday to publicize the company's Miracle Treat Day, when it gives $1 of every Blizzard sold to a hospital in the Children's Miracle Network. Last year the company, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, raised $37,500 for All Children's. It has donated a total of $455,000 in 30 years.

Gainor, who has a house in St. Pete Beach, sat down with the Tampa Bay Times.

Warren Buffett recently made headlines when he ordered a Blizzard while dining at the Four Seasons in New York. Did this spike sales?

Unfortunately, when Warren was in New York, we had not yet opened our first store in Manhattan. It would be good to say we saw a spike after, but I'm not sure. Warren is definitely our biggest fan.

What's his favorite treat?

At the annual meeting every year, he comes in and gets a Vanilla Orange Bar.

Did you expect the headlines you garnered in May when you said that raising the minimum wage isn't a completely negative concept?

The key in our business is great employees. We have to make sure we have well-trained people in our stores. Operators spend a lot of time hiring their employees, so we want to make sure it's a desirable place for people to want to work.

(Brooksville DQ franchisee Dan Byrne said most employees with a year's tenure at his store make about $10 an hour.)

What's the sales split between desserts and meals?

It's probably about 55 (percent) to 45 (percent) treat versus food. It varies by regions. Some locations sell more food than treats.

As the frozen yogurt craze continues, have you thought of bringing back a yogurt concoction like the Breeze you served in the '90s?

The Blizzard brand (generates) $900 million in sales a year. We are really focused on our great soft serve. Our soft serve is reduced fat.

Are you opening any stores in this area soon?

The greater Tampa Bay area is a target market and is an area we have focused on for development over the next several years. (DQ has more than two dozen locations in the bay area.)

Why don't employees hand over Blizzards upside down these days like they used to, to show how thick they are?

In 26 out the 27 countries we are in, we turn the Blizzards upside down. We are now trying to promote to every operator to get employees to turn the Blizzards upside down because it creates a unique experience nobody else can do. We are a franchised system. These are not company restaurants. We are trying to work with our operators to do things that will drive that tradition.

Is there a Blizzard flavor that just flopped?

The Puckerberry (a mix of sour raspberry sherbet mixed with vanilla). Oh, geez.

The No. 1 Blizzard around the world is Oreo. The No. 1 Blizzard in Asia is green tea. We customize flavors to go into various countries. We have an amazing research and development staff in Minneapolis, and they may work years to develop a flavor and get it right. Or they can get it in a few months. We get to sample them all.

Buffett's bonanza

Class A shares of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, which counts Dairy Queen among its many holdings, surpassed $200,000 for the first time Thursday, hitting an intraday high of $203,081 before closing at $202,850. Berkshire has long had the most expensive U.S. stock. Buffett never split Berkshire's A shares, which first topped $1,000 in 1983, though he did create more affordable Class B shares in 1996 that now sell for nearly $135.

Associated Press

Q&A with Dairy Queen CEO John Gainor 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 7:49pm]

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