Banana Split Owners Celebrate 30 Years of ‘PERFECT ICE CREAM STORM’
By: Tom Strong – June 2013
When Randy Brown was 16 years old, he started working at the Ohio Street Dairy Queen in Aurora. Little did he know that was the beginning of a success story that continues today. It’s a story of risk taking and hard work familiar to those who have started small businesses. Randy and his wife, Lisa, know it well as they celebrate 30 years of owning the Banana Split shop near Garfield Park in Aurora. Randy managed the Illinois Avenue Dairy Queen for two years, and he and Lisa operated it together for two more years ending in 1982. Then came the turning point in their career. They gutted the now familiar building, which they had purchased at the corner of Church and Sheffer roads, remodeled it, and opened it as the Banana Split on Feb. 11, 1983.
“It was stressful-I was 20 and Randy was 23, and we had sunk all of our savings into the business,” Lisa said. “It was sink or swim, but never in my mind did I think it would fail.” “Our parents came every night to help tear down the machines. If not for their help, it would have been much harder to learn the routine.” Randy had similar memories of opening the shop. “We basically thought we could do it right from the get go, but it took a while to learn the routine,” he said. “Lisa’s dad gave us guidance and suggestions, but didn’t tell us what to do.”
Early on, they envisioned opening new stores, but didn’t have the capital to do it at the time. After their best season in 1993 (the “perfect ice cream storm,” according to Randy), and also after help from an Aurora University business class market survey, the Browns eventually opened a second Banana Split in North Aurora in 1997. “It was a great learning experience,” Lisa said. “We met a lot of great customers and employees.” But market conditions (and regulations) didn’t develop as had been predicted, and the store closed after four and half years. Lisa and Randy since have devoted all of their efforts to re-establish the image and business at their original location. As community-minded small business owners who give back, the Browns have been second to none.“We’ve done Aurora boys’ baseball booster tickets for 30 years and have sponsored a team for 29 years,” Randy said. “We’ve also sponsored a girls’ softball team for more than 20 years, and have been involved in North Aurora baseball for about six years.”But sponsoring youth sports was really just the beginning of their giving back.
Banana Split has helped to sponsor the summer reading program at the Aurora Public Library (by donating coupons to redeem at the store) for more than 15 years, and has supported Senior Services by delivering ice cream treats to its meetings twice a month. The business is in its third year of doing fundraisers for schools and school organizations such as national honor societies. The sponsored organization is rewarded with a percentage of sales from a designated day, and Banana Split has donated as many as 10 of those days in a season. The store is also in the midst of a Passionately Pink fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in memory of the mother of one of its employees. And speaking of employees, Lisa and Randy are very proud of their staff, and said that some have stayed as long as 12 and 14 years. The current group boasts 137 years of combined experience. What makes the Browns so conscientious in giving back to the community? “We grew up here, it’s our home, and we wouldn’t be where we are without everybody’s support,” Lisa said. “You would like to leave a place nicer than you found it,” Randy added. “That’s what I would like to do with the store’s neighborhood-to help it improve. I would hope that we’ve had a hand in doing that. We want good memories for families.”