By Laurie Stone: PNT Correspondent
The owners of the Portales Dairy Queen, Tom and Susie Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series on local business owners who have been with their respective business for five years or longer.
Houtchens will celebrate Dairy Queen’s 20th anniversary in March. The family business was purchased in 1985 by Charles Lester, Susie’s father, and in 1998 the Houtchens took over the popular franchise bringing some changes with them.
Before moving to Portales, in 1998, from Lubbock, the Houtchens owned the Family Cleaners and Laundry.
Over the past eight years, they have dedicated their lives to making the community of Portales a better place through their service as business owners. Along the way, they have awakened a community of restaurant owners and friends by demonstrating the meaning behind true friendship.
According to Susie, learning the business has been the greatest obstacle.
“We came into the restaurant business blindly. All we knew was how to provide customer service,” she said. “But over the years, we have learned that to be successful in a small business, we must help others,” said Susie.
The Houtchens have found a few restaurants in town that help advise them when they need support, when they run low on food and when they need to hire new employees.
Pete Paiz, a friend of the Houtchens and owner of JJ’s Jumbo Burger, said there is a new generation of business owners that are coming together.
“We understand what it’s like to run a small business in a small town,” Paiz said. “It makes running your own business a lot easier when you have people willing to work together.”
When the Houtchens moved to Portales, Susie said they didn’t know anyone and the long hours at the restaurant prevented them from socializing within the community.
“The valued friends we have made stared out as our customers,” said Susie.
Anna Belle and Paul Kohler are regular customers at Dairy Queen. They have known the Houtchens since they took over the business.
“We keep coming back because of the friendly behavior, the clean atmosphere and because the food is good,” said Anna Belle. “The Houtchens are mindful of their customers. In a lot of places you receive service but you don’t receive friendship. At Dairy Queen you find that.”
The Houtchens have received numerous awards but Susie said her most memorable experience was winning the quality and purity award known as the International Dairy Queen Award. According to the DQ magazine, The Word, the Portales Dairy Queen is one of the top ten DQ franchises in the region, which includes parts of New Mexico and the Texas panhandle.
The Houtchens are upbeat about the family franchise and its continued success. They feel a sense of responsibility in keeping it open and it remaining in the family but according to Susie, that decision is up to her children.