Alicia Jindra has been working at home on the same oil painting for a year and can't predict when it will be completed.

"With three kids, I don't have a lot of time to do it," she says.

But at her place of work, this prize-winning designer's artistic masterpieces are often completed in five to 10 minutes. And they're usually savored for at least that long.

Jindra, 33, is the newly crowned queen of Dairy Queen's cake decorators. The owner of a Dairy Queen in Coon Rapids, Jindra last month won Dairy Queen's "Iron Tip" cake-decorating international competition in San Diego.

Of the 223 DQ decorators who submitted more than 1,500 photos of their most creative works, it was Jindra's that took the cake.

Customers of the Dairy Queen Chill & Grill at 3595 River Rapids Dr., just south of the junction of Round Lake Blvd. and Hwy. 10, shouldn't be surprised. With six glass doors, the store's display cabinet is two or three times the size of display cases in many DQ stores. But instead of the usual white frosted cakes with the predictable trims, Jindra's cakes explode with unusual color schemes and designs.

The first time you go to the Dairy Queen owned by Phil and Alicia Jindra, it's almost a shock to see a bright green-frosted DQ cake. Or one with a heart sprouting wings. Or a birthday cake with a giant bee that covers nearly two-thirds of the surface, leaving enough space for the message, "Happy Bee-Day."

At the Jindras' DQ, visual spectacles are the norm.

"We want the cakes to be eye-catching," she said. "People seem to notice."

Many special orders

This Dairy Queen sells an average of 10 ice-cream cakes each winter day, and triple that during the summer. Of the 70 cakes the Jindras sold for Valentine's Day, many were special-ordered and all designed by Alicia. On Father's Day, the Jindras expect to sell at least 100.

"I tell our customers to be creative," said Alicia, who grew up in Ham Lake. "If they want caramel, we'll give them caramel. We don't just decorate the cakes; we make them here."

When the Andover residents became owner-operators of Minnesota's first Grill & Chill Dairy Queen nine years ago, she had no idea that one day she would become sole cake decorator -- and a prize-winning one at that.

The Jindras knew their Dairy Queens, though. Phil's parents, Ken and Darlene, got into the business 25 years ago when they started the first of the family's two Dairy Queens in the area. Phil's brother, Tim, runs the operation in Anoka on Round Lake Boulevard, just a couple miles up the road from Alicia and Phil's store.

"Dad was in construction and he wanted to be his own boss," said Phil, 36. "He knew franchising was one way to go."

Alicia and Phil started their own DQ in 2003, but she's been drawing for far longer.

"She's always drawing or doing artsy things with the kids," Phil said.

'I had some ideas'

Alicia has enjoyed decorating holiday cookies, but began decorating Dairy Queen cakes out of necessity. At the Jindras' DQ, many of the frozen-dessert items are made on the premises -- Dilly Bars, Buster Bars and the ice-cream cakes. Somebody had to decorate the cakes.

For a while, Alicia shared cake-decorating tasks with another woman. When she left the business, Alicia was on her own.

"I was scared," she admitted. "But I had some ideas."

She decided bright is better.

"My attitude is anything is possible," she said. "Make it bright and colorful, stick it on the cake display shelves and see if it sells."

It was Phil who suggested that she enter the Iron Tip international DQ cake-decorating competition, patterned after the Iron Chef competition on the Food Network.

She submitted photos of cakes for each of the contest's four categories, which were judged on color scheme, placement of decorations, cake borders and overall appearance. In August, she learned she had won the regional competition. By October, judges had eliminated all but 12 contestants, Phil said.

The Jindras had discussed attending Dairy Queen's international convention, which was to be held in January, in San Diego.

"Should we go?" Alicia asked.

"I don't know," Phil said. "If you win the cake contest, we'll go."

Alicia was at Dairy Queen the day she got a congratulatory call from corporate headquarters. Phil said she broke down and cried, becoming so emotional that she took a rare day off.

"It was the greatest feeling," she said. "But, you know, it's no greater than learning that someone brought home one of our cakes and someone else who saw it said, 'Wow! Where'd you get that?'"

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419