Matt and Vicki Tierney had ministry on their minds almost from the moment they met as Lawrence University students. Graduated and newly married, this history and music major landed in Byron. Here, they made their first Calvary connections. They were called to student ministry by Tentmaker Board members, Bill and Nancy Monsen, Steve and Rosie Koebele, and Kurt and Faye Wendland. Tentmakers sought to reach and disciple teens among five mainline churches in the Byron area. For five years the ministry grew to a core of 30 teens. Their family grew, too, with daughters Paige and Abigail arriving.
In 1997, Matt left Tentmakers and together, he and Vicki began the search for what was next. Both Matt and Vicki had entrepreneurial spirit bred into their DNA. Matt’s dad had owned radio stations in Alaska, and Vicki’s grandfather’s company had built large equipment for printers. Matt drove busses, cleaned an area Catholic Church, and worked as a Youth Services Coordinator in the Rochester School District. “Matt is a scrapper,” Vicki says with a doting look and a smile, “He can and will do almost anything. I was not at all worried he and God would take care of us.” They started poking around for a business to buy, including researching franchises. Subway turned them down for a location in Byron because the town was “too small.” Matt adds, “We thought a franchise would be a faster path to the money we needed so Vicki could perhaps stay home and homeschool the girls.” Matt kept scrapping.
Eventually, they bought Navis Pack and Ship Center, a small shipping storefront operation in NW Rochester. “People thought we were a liquor store,” Vicki giggles. Again, there was a Calvary connection, with Peggy Hammond as Matt’s main employee. “It was a great experience for us. Matt did everything to ship things safely. If he needed a pallet, he made it. The girls loved going over there building stuff out of the scraps of wood.”
Now homeschooling, one of their family highlights each year was the Home, Vacation and RV Show at the Rochester Fairgrounds. Paige and Abby fell in love with the R.Vs., working the angles until Matt mused, “Maybe one day we will buy one and tour the country.” When Navis grew too big for its pallets, and when every attempt to relocate to a larger building resulted in a slammed door, Matt and Vicki sold Navis in March of 2010. Sensing God had shut a door, maybe it was time to try a window – an R.V. window to be precise, and take that RV tour the girls were dreaming about. To make the most of the time between Navis and What’s Next, they headed down I-35 on the first leg of a 3-month, homeschooler’s-RV-dream that took them from Minnesota to Texas to Florida to Maine to Minnesota to Flapdoodles.
As they drove and dreamed about what would come next, they fueled those dreams by indulging in one of Matt’s favorite passions – ice cream. At one of those ice cream shops in Massachusetts, the employee flipped the cones over into a bowl when the ice cream was too soft. That looks kinds like a sail, Matt mused. Sailing, by the way, was the passion of Matt’s dad, who owned a sailboat in Alaska named The Flapdoodle. Matt had thought for years that would be a great name for an ice cream shop. Vicki’s eyes twinkle as she adds, “After that ice cream stop, as I drove, Matt sketched the cone-as-a-sail logo.” That logo is now their ice cream shop’s signature.
Don’t Sit On Your Talents
When they hit Rochester in June, 2010, there was no doubt about the next stop on their family journey. It was only a matter of finding the right spot and the right recipes. Ironically, an old Subway at an excellent frontage road location off Highway 52 became available. “Matt had tremendous peace about this, and I knew it was the right thing to do. We had talked about investing in stocks or bonds. But then I thought of the Parable of the Talents. ‘Don’t sit on it, use it!’ and I was all in.”
Not everyone was so convinced. Shortly after announcing the idea, one critic quipped, “You have to sell an awful lot of ice cream to pay for this in the middle of winter.” When told of the previous comment, Tom Wacholtz from Calvary, scoffed at that attitude, telling Vicki, “Everybody thought Sam Walton was crazy when he did what he did.” Vicki pauses and states. “I suddenly felt really, really believed in, and greatly encouraged.” Other Calvary people stepped alongside the Tierneys. Harvey Ratzloff found the building and Chris Ratzloff helped with the remodel. The Knodels and Johnsons walked over to pray with them one night during construction prior to opening. “Calvary people were amazing,” Vicki states while Matt nods in agreement.
So an ice cream shop needs more than a cute name and logo and good location. It needs, well, good ice cream. And someone has to make it. So just how did Matt move ice cream from a passion to eat to a passion to make? Wait for it…he scrapped the talent together, visiting ice cream shops and asking questions, reading books on it, and attending seminars. And he tested. “We have a little ice cream maker at home, and we just tried stuff,” Matt smiles. “Paige came up with our gingerbread recipe and we use Ann Knodel’s oatmeal cookie recipe for our Oatmeal Cookie flavor.”
Ask someone who’s been to Flapdoodles (who hasn’t?) and you will likely hear about the goofy sayings on the walls and tables. Flapdoodle means “foolish talk.’’ Matt collected sayings out there free to use, brought them home each day over lunch, and Vicki, Paige, and Abby weighed in. A few are original. Paige and Abigail also helped pick the fonts used, the décor colors, and the music the store plays. They also helped get the store ready to open.
Matt, the Servant Leader
Many people have the idea that the restaurant business is easy – you know, open the doors and haul your money to the bank in a wheel-barrow. Vicki describes the sacrifice: “Matt didn’t have one day off the first summer we were open. I remember one night he fell asleep in his chair at the dinner table. I started asking myself, ‘Will we ever be able to have supper together as a family again?’ Not only a scrapper, but a perfectionist, Matt was and still is the only person who makes the ice cream until recently. “There were no ice cream vets. We had to train everybody to do everything.” Matt’s love language of serving added still more work, “Matt is the consummate servant-leader. If one of our employees needed a shift off, Matt made it happen.”
Their sacrifice has more than paid the bills for them. It has created opportunities for others. Flapdoodles has employed 30 people, nearly all high school and college students, since opening in May, 2011. For most of these employees, Flapdoodles has been their first and only job. “My nickname around here is The Benevolent Dictator. I want to build in these employees high expectations, confidence, respect for others, and a servant heart.”
Flapdoodles has had a major impact on two of the Tierney’s employees – daughters Paige and Abby. One day Abby commented, “One of the things that has helped my faith the most was seeing how God has helped us with Flapdoodles.” The Tierney’s had ministry on their mind since they met. That ministry recently came full circle. One of the kids he started mentoring at age seven is now his employee. Sweet!