Meet Mike McKinnon, Owner of Thurston County’s Dairy Queens



By Kelli Samson

dairy queen franchise
Mike McKinnon’s parents started their first Dairy Queen franchise in 1976 in Lacey.

Think back to playing sports as a kid. Odds are, you didn’t go celebrate after the big game with a formal, sit-down dinner at a fancy restaurant. You probably went out for ice cream, right?

My family and I can often be found at the Tumwater Dairy Queen after one of my older daughter’s summer soccer games. We happily pop in for a dipped cone or a Blizzard and are quickly on our way, smiling from ear to ear.

It’s the stuff of which fond family memories are made.

Mike McKinnon, a graduate of Olympia High School, knows a thing or two about this. He and his parents own of all of the Dairy Queen’s in Thurston County as well as the location in Centralia.

“My parents got into the business back in 1976,” he recounts. “They purchased their first store in Lacey on Pacific Avenue, and then they expanded through the years. They built stores in Tumwater, Rochester, Olympia, Yelm, and Centralia.”

Dairy Queen “is in the family DNA,” admits McKinnon, who worked briefly at his parent’s old South Sound Mall location as a young teenager, but didn’t come into the business officially until 1998.

“We call it ‘fan food,’ not ‘fast food,’” he states. “Dairy Queen is tied to happy memories and the celebrations of life’s great little moments. Everyone lays claim to ‘My DQ’. It’s a great business.”

dairy queen franchise
Mike McKinnon believes in giving teens a start in the business world at one of his Dairy Queen franchises.

McKinnon believes strongly in giving local teens their first taste of what it means to be a part of the work force. A teenager can expect a solid foundation of work ethic to form as an employee at a local Dairy Queen.

“This industry is where many young people learn how to have a job – how to show up on time, to listen to instruction from managers, and how to work as a team. If they don’t get that in sports or other high school activities, this is another place for them to get that experience.”

Teenagers today are different from even five years ago, yet their role at work at Dairy Queen remains unchanged and unaffected by their need to connect in an increasingly digital age. “Kids can learn to work and have fun within a structure here,” explains McKinnon. The demands of the job haven’t changed much. Employees still make burgers, sandwiches and soft serve ice cream treats.

What has changed is that Dairy Queen has shifted to an online application process. However, the old-fashioned advice to following-up on an application in person at the place of business still holds true.

“Just don’t come during the lunch rush,” cautions McKinnon with a smile. “We’re always hiring,” he adds.

Currently, McKinnon provides work for anywhere from 225 to 240 individuals in our area. He is giving back to our community by sponsoring sports teams, along with sponsoring the high school internship positions here at ThurstonTalk. He is generously giving kids an opportunity to learn about the world of journalism outside of high school.

dairy queen franchise
At the Tumwater location, Mike McKinnon and his father reminisce about how Dairy Queen is tied to “life’s happy little moments.”

As for his own favorite item on Dairy Queen’s menu?

“The Blizzard is still king. My favorite is the cappuccino-Heath Blizzard.  I like the coffee, and I’m a toffee guy.”

Next up for McKinnon’s Dairy Queen empire? Local Dairy Queens will soon have mobile loyalty programs, much like those you see at businesses like Starbucks. Customers will scan something with their smart phone to receive rewards at the checkout.

2015 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Dairy Queen as a brand. “We will have some very exciting things coming that are very fan-driven. There will be contests for determining Blizzards of the Month, and a lot of the flavors that have been our greatest hits will be making an appearance,” explains McKinnon.

Unfortunately for this local soccer mom, one of those flavors will not be Reese’s Pieces. Lucky for my kids, though, the cotton candy flavor may make a comeback.

You can learn more about the online application process for Dairy Queen by visiting


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