East County's new Dairy Queen serves more than ice cream.
Four-year-old Max Bruce wriggled in his booth, seated opposite his father, David Bruce.
He stole a glance at the television screen on a back wall as he spooned a Dairy Queen Blizzard into his mouth.
The pair had stopped at East County’s newest Dairy Queen, located at 8307 State Road 64, because it proved a convenient snack stop for their afternoon.
But with each bite, they fed not only their bellies, but also Lake-view Centers, a nonprofit that provides behavioral health and child protective services in Florida and offers vocational services in 13 states through its affiliate, Global Connections to Employment.
“It’s nice,” David Bruce said of the fact that proceeds from his ice cream purchase benefited charity. “I appreciate it for sure.”
Lakeview is capitalizing on a concept called “social franchising,” which involves using earnings from a for-profit business to fund a nonprofit organization.
The newest East County location opened Feb. 20.
“We’re killing it,” said Tra Williams, chief operating officer for Lakeview Associated Enterprises, Lakeview’s for-profit arm. “It has been surprising how well it’s been received. We have fantastic employees. This has been the smoothest opening we’ve had.”
The center opened its first Dairy Queen in April 2015 in Riverview and in August 2015 in Pasco County.
About four years ago, political uncertainty prompted Lakeview Center’s leadership to consider alternative funding sources for its $750 million budget, 80% of which is federally and state funded.
“They saw the potential exposure,” Williams said. “It doesn’t bode well for the ability to expand services. They asked how do you we mitigate and diversify revenue streams?”
Williams was working as a consultant at the time, but after learning about Lakeview and its mission, he joined the company to head up the new division for its for-profit enterprises. He began researching the county’s more than 3,000 franchises, narrowing down the list, eventually, to the top five. Williams knew Dairy Queen was the cultural match for Lakeview’s mission.
The State Road 64 location is part of a 5-acre tract Lakeview purchased for $2.3 million in May 2016. It sold one parcel to Taco Bell, now under construction, and has two other parcels remaining with plans to sell them “if we don’t find a brand we want to put there ourselves,” Williams said.
“We’re vetting other concepts we like,” he said. “A lot of people want this dirt.”
Lakeview’s eight-year plan includes construction of nine more Dairy Queen franchises along the Gulf Coast, with four franchise agreements already in place — two in Sarasota County, one in west Bradenton and one in downtown Bradenton. Sites have not been selected, however.
Ideal locations are proving difficult to find, slowing Lakeview’s original goal of 12 stores in five years.
Williams and the Lakeview Associated Enterprises’ team is focused on educating the public about its mission and where its dollars go.
“It made a big difference seeing that money go back into the community,” said store general manager Roderick Brooks, who helped open the other two Lakeview Dairy Queen stores. “This store has been the busiest. There’s a lot more excitement wrapped around it.”