Imagine for a moment that you own a frozen custard stand in St. Louis. With the hot summers and passion for this treat in our hometown, there is much money to be made. You and a few of your friends purchase land, borrow money to build your Frozen Custard stand, invest in 4 soft serve machines at a price equal to the cost of 4 new cars, buy a "Slush" machine (you've gotta have that if you are selling Frozen Custard in St. Louis) get a soda machine, and purchase all of the stuff required (toppings, cups, etc.) to deliver your product to the hungry masses. Now that you've just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars just to open your stand, you decide to hire a bunch of high school and college kids to run it. Sound crazy? Not so at Spanky's Frozen Custard, a South County Institution of 25 years that recently decided to close for good.
I was fortunate enough to be an employee of Spanky's for 8 years (1994-2001). I am also not related to the families who own Spanky's. In fact, I knew no one who worked there before I was hired. I was just a 16 year old kid who was fortunate enough to know where to apply for a job. I remember speaking to one of the Spanky's owners right after I started working there. He told me that they started this business, in part, because they wanted to teach young kids what it means to be responsible for something. Spanky's was owned by four South County families, all of whom had kids who worked at the family business. (The "Spanky's" name was after a child that one of the owners had adopted.) As employees, we were taught all aspects of the business and we took great pride in serving frozen custard, which may sound strange, but no different than a chef taking pride in his food. As a general rule, Spanky's only hired employees who were in high school and college. If you ever saw an adult in the building, it was usually an owner, or a trusted friend of the owners that was hired to help out during the daytime, when all the kids were in school. In fact, it was the only place that I ever heard of that had owners who deeply cared about your performance in school. I remember one of the owners asking me what grades I got on my Final Exams during my Senior year in high school. And it wasn't just to ask, he legitimately cared about how I did. On another occasion, a different owner told me that she wanted all of us to do well in school and to use our experience at Spanky's as a bridge into the working world after we graduated from College. Indeed, it was the only job I knew of that you could ask off of work because you had to study for a test or do homework.
As an employee of Spanky's for 8 years, I met many good people, made life-long friends, and had some of the best times of my life right there in that little custard stand. Every year, I looked forward to our employee float trip. All of us experimented with different flavors of concretes and most got added to the menu. We even thought we could add baked goods to the menu, which lead us to try microwaving the chocolate chip cookie dough topping, which was a failure to say the least. But our creativity was encouraged and that's important to an adolsecent. We ate pizza or Taco Bell frequently after we closed each night and got to talk and goof around a little. We played "Closing Time" by Semisonic at closing time. It was the absolute best job that I could have had as a kid.
By the time I left Spanky's to start my teaching career, I had done the following:
Supervised a team of employees in the all important night shift once a week
Completed performance based evaluations on employees
Had experience in ordering all the supplies that were needed for the week
Planned the float trip and other employee nights out
Knew how to take apart and sanitize a soft serve ice cream machine (interesting side note on that ... I was at a Dairy Queen this past summer and saw that they were having trouble with their soft serve machine. Armed with my Spanky's knowledge, I told the flustered Dairy Queen employees to "reset" the machine. Problem solved!)
Knew all about food safety and how to keep everything sanitized (A perfect score on our health inspection was a must.) Heck, with the help of a couple of coworkers and friends, I even washed and waxed the dumpster in the back parking lot. (My Spanky's friends are probably smiling right about now.)
All of these experiences had some kind of positive impact on my career as a teacher. And I have to say that all of these experiences are not unique to me. You'll find all kinds of former Spanky's employees who will give similar testimonials. The bottom line was that if you worked at Spanky's multiple summers and did a good job, you were always given additional responsibilities. You were given experiences that helped you in life. I know of no other retail job today that does all of these things for young kids. And if there is, please let me know. I'd love to patronize it.
So, now that Spanky's is closed for good, it leaves behind more than just frozen custard treats. It gave generations of young kids a great place to work, and taught them what it was like to be responsible for a business. After much reflection, what saddens me the most is that my daughter won't have the experience of working at Spanky's Frozen Custard when she turns 16. It was a great run, Spanky's. You'll be missed.