Andrew Peralta was 15 years old when he took a job working at the Dairy Queen here, but he admits he wasn’t “the best ice cream maker in the world” when he first started.
“I got better over the years,” he said.
Now 26, Peralta owns that restaurant and employs 40 people. His business acumen helped him win the Minnesota Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year award last month.
Grant Oppegaard, a business consultant for the Northwest Small Business Development Center who worked with Peralta, said the young business owner is open to suggestions from those around him and simply works hard to make things happen for himself.
“He doesn’t realize that he is exactly what America is supposed to be about,” he said.
But Peralta admits he had some mixed feelings about managing people who were older and more experienced than him.
“Over time, I think they learned to respect me,” he said. “We’re all on a good page.”
Just 15.9 percent of business owners were under the age of 35 in 2012, according to the SBA. And Peralta isn’t settling on just one Dairy Queen — he wants to own five by the time he turns 35.
Dairy Queen isn’t Peralta’s only foray business ownership. Around the same time he started at Dairy Queen, he and a friend started a lawn service company.
Peralta worked his way up to general manager of Dairy Queen, and by the time he was 19 or 20 years old, he knew he wanted to buy the business.
Peralta was taking business classes at Minnesota State University Moorhead, but left that behind to run the restaurant. He said he learned more from hands-on experience.
“School wasn’t my cup of tea,” he said. “There were just so many people I knew who owned businesses that I could go ask.”
One of those people he tapped for advice was Oppegaard.
“He asked the right kind of questions, he didn’t pretend he knew stuff he didn’t,” he said. “He was very receptive, no ego as far as I’m concerned.”
Peralta saved up much of the money he needed to buy the Dairy Queen by buying homes, fixing them up and reselling them. He even sold his own home and lived at a friend’s house for a few months, he said.
That diligence at a young age helps show why Peralta was the right person to take over the business, Oppegaard said.
“And he did it … simply because he believed what his father told him, and that is that hard work pays off, and if you work hard treat people right, you’ll do just fine,” he said.