When Wisconsin native David Brandner recalls childhood trips to see his grandparents in St. Paul, the accompanying trip to the old Bridgeman's ice cream shop always sticks in his memory. Now frozen desserts have once again brought him to the capital city, only this time he's behind the counter.
Brandner created and opened FreeStyle Yogurt in January at Lexington Parkway and Randolph Avenue, just a mile from where his grandparents used to treat his sweet tooth.
"I thought there was a good opportunity here to build a brand, not a franchise, build something from the ground up, and hopefully expand in the Twin Cities," Brandner said.
The idea first came to him from an old girlfriend who opened his eyes to the healthy fro-yo craze sweeping the West Coast. Then while living in Dallas, Brandner saw similar shops popping up everywhere and decided to give it a shot for himself -- only he would take the idea 900 miles north.
"The Twin Cities are a very progressive, very health-conscious area," Brandner said in defense of bringing frozen yogurt to such a chilly region, his speech peppered with a slight drawl likely picked up in Texas.
Brandner favors the complete managerial freedom in owning his own store over the expensive, prepared organizational assistance offered from franchises. The corporate world is not alien to Brandner, as he previously worked for a restaurant and retailing consulting company. Sitting in a cubicle right out of college, his work included "trying to sell physician recruiting services to hospitals," he said. "Not very gratifying."
Brandner quickly realized the transition to small-business owner wasn't an easy process. He regularly worked "hellacious" 18-hour days when FreeStyle opened, not making it home till after midnight. "There's a lot more anxiety that goes along with being truly entrepreneurial," he said. There were some perks, though: Part of his research included traveling around the country to sample frozen-yogurt flavors.
Brandner says the greatest difference between his corporate and small-business lives is the ability to see the same kind of family connections in FreeStyle that he remembers so fondly. "I see moms having conversations with their daughters, fathers having conversations with their sons, leaving happy," Brandner said, looking to the brightly colored walls of the shop. "To be able to facilitate that experience is very, very gratifying."
- Age: 37
- Employer: FreeStyle Yogurt (founder)
- Job title: Captain of the FreeStyle team
- Start date: August 2011
- Background: Got a job out of college as a restaurant and retail consultant in Dallas before deciding to drop that career to open his own self-serve frozen-yogurt store in St. Paul