The scent of a sweet, sugary treat can evoke a beautiful, blissful memory.
Such is the case for Mandy Johnson. She would take her children to an ice cream shop when they were little. “It reminded me of spending time with my grandparents, when they would take us out for ice cream when I was a child,” Johnson says. “There was a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in going out for ice cream.”
One day in 2014, while the family was indulging in their favorite dessert at Wyliepalooza Ice Cream Emporium in Brownsburg, the management of the shop offered Johnson a part-time job. After working there for one and a half years, the owner suggested that Johnson buy the store, which she did. Four years ago Mandy and her husband, Brent, moved the shop from 1022 East Main Street to 1042 East Main.
“I don’t make big changes in my life, so 87 steps seemed far enough,” Johnson says with a chuckle. Truthfully, they had outgrown the original shop and were seeking more seating as well as space to hold birthday parties. When they relocated, they opted to change the name to Mandy’s Ice Cream, which seemed appropriate given that customers frequently told her that whenever they wanted to grab ice cream, they’d holler, “Let’s go to Mandy’s!” In June of 2022, Mandy and Brent opened a second location in Pittsboro.
Not only does Johnson see many grandparents and grandchildren come into her ice cream shop, but she also gets to witness countless celebrations – everything from losing a first tooth to securing a driver’s license to finishing up chemo treatments. People come in to reward themselves after getting a flu shot or being discharged from a hospital. Some even come straight from a hospital, with plastic bands still looped around their wrists.
“It’s almost like a box of chocolates in terms of never knowing what the day will bring, who I’m going to meet and how they will work into my life,” Johnson says.
Some customers come in to celebrate kids having great weeks at school – not just academically, but also behaviorally. Other times, parents are celebrating a potty-training milestone with their child.
After seven years of owning the ice cream shop, it’s safe to say that Johnson is familiar with her clientele.
“If I don’t know them by name, I know them by flavor,” she says. “Being able to be a part of all of this is 100% why I’m not an absent owner and why I’m so glad that I ended up being here. I joke that I need to figure out what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life, but honestly, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.”
At Mandy’s, people come in as customers and leave as friends. Not only does Johnson appreciate the relationships she has developed with customers through the years, but she has also enjoyed seeing memories being made and traditions continued. For instance, there is a group of girls that has always come in for ice cream on their last day of school since they were little.
“Their moms have always brought them, and this last spring I looked over and started crying because I realized that their moms weren’t there,” Johnson says. “The students were old enough to drive themselves. I’ve watched these kids grow up.”
Johnson has been invited to weddings, birthday parties, graduation open houses, and funerals.
“To be thought of in that way surprises me but makes me feel blessed,” she says. “When I say it’s been my pleasure to serve this community, I mean it. I love my friends who come in and they love me back. I can feel it.”
As for her employees, she refers to them not as staff, but rather as her scoopers or her kids. For many of them, it is their first job, and she loves to see them mature over time.
“One of my girls broke out in hives during her interview because she was so nervous,” Johnson says. “Not anymore. A parent of one of my scoopers told me that his daughter became much more social once she began working here because she’s no longer afraid to talk to people.”
Johnson says these kids form bonds like brothers and sisters. When one of them had a major surgery, the other kids were calling to check on him and take him gifts.
“They become their own little family,” Johnson says.
Speaking of family, Johnson wants to make sure that family, as well as faith and school, take precedence over work.
“If you want to go to small-group [bible study], I’ll cover your shift,” Johnson says. “If you have a test and need to study, I’ll cover your shift. If you need to take care of your mom or babysit your brother, I’ll cover your shift.”
Johnson loves not just her scoopers and her own kids (Miranda, Andrew, Nicklaus and Lexi), but also all the kids in the community. Last summer, Suzanne Rietdorf, an art teacher at Delaware Trail Elementary School, asked Johnson if she would be willing to display some of her students’ artwork on the walls of the ice cream shop as part of a visual-arts scavenger hunt. Johnson was happy to oblige. She now has between 30 and 40 pieces of original artwork hanging on the walls from Brownsburg fourth- and fifth-graders. The plan is to rotate in new artwork as it is created.
“When you’re little, seeing your stuff on the wall is so exciting,” Johnson says. “My shop is basically a giant refrigerator.”
Then there are the handwritten letters Johnson gets from Delaware Trail students, who are practicing crafting formal letters.
“They are some of the cutest things I’ve ever seen,” says Johnson, citing the following example from a student: “I must say this is one of the best ice cream shops I’ve ever been to in my little tiny life.”
Another note ran as follows: “The workers are kind and caring, funny and generous. They take time in everything they do, and I love how they make a joke. Mandy’s is the best.”
Last fall a local student asked Johnson if she would be willing to speak at a business clinic at the high school. Though Johnson was not a fan of public speaking, the student insisted that she would do great. She agreed, then asked who else would be participating. The student read off the list, which included the president of Circle City Wealth, the vice president of marketing for IndyCar, and Antron Brown, an American drag racer. Johnson’s eyes widened, and she wondered why she was picked along with the other speakers.
It’s safe to say that Johnson doesn’t give herself enough credit. Clearly she’s a rock star, and everyone in the community knows it. Just ask the kindergarteners to whom Johnson spoke at an elementary school community-day event.
“I was terrified to talk to these 5-year-olds, but they asked great questions and we had a lovely time,” Johnson says. “Afterwards, the teachers told me that this was the most behaved they had ever seen their students.”
Mandy’s Ice Cream is located at 1042 East Main Street in Brownsburg, and is open daily from noon to 9 p.m. For more information, call 317-350-2467. The Pittsboro store is located at 91 North Maple Street. You can also visit them on Facebook.
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