Perkins named 2011 Large Business of the Year

Employees enjoy  serving others — in  the store and in the community

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
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Perkins of Little Falls will be honored Thursday as the Chamber’s Large Business of the Year, during its annual meeting. Pictured are some of Perkins’ 52 employees (from left): Pam Eidenschink, Sarah Fisher, Carrie Knutson, Tom Schneider, Sarah Becker, Don McConkey, Janelle Fitch, Josh Jensen, Karla Plante, Molly Neudauer and Katarina Kloss.

Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery has been a staple in the Little Falls community for 14 years.

Its “team” exemplifies service — to the restaurant’s customers and to the community.

But for Don McConkey, who brought Perkins to Little Falls with partner Dan Smith, the community has made that easy.

McConkey said that when he and Smith were looking for a location for the restaurant, there were options. But when he and his wife, Leeann, visited Little Falls, they knew this was the place.

Since that time, McConkey has sold out his ownership portion. He remains regional manager, serving the Little Falls, Cambridge and Elk River stores.

He and Leeann have moved from Little Falls to be nearer to grandchildren who live in the Metro area. But even though they were residents of Little Falls for just five years, “This is still home,” he said. “It is one of the best places I’ve ever lived.”

The Little Falls restaurant is currently led by store manager Janelle Fitch. She started with Perkins in 2003 as a server, and worked her way up.

Fitch said she loves what she does at the restaurant, and what she does in the community.

McConkey and Fitch lead volunteer efforts by example. During his tenure in Little Falls, McConkey was a board member with the Chamber of Commerce, serving as its president, was a Little Falls Lions Club member, and honored with its highest honor, the Melvin Jones award. He is also on the advisory board to the post commander for Camp Ripley.

Fitch is involved as a board member with the Friends of the Pine Grove Zoo, as well as various other committees with the group. She said the Perkins team’s favorite volunteer event is by far, the Zoo Boo.

Last year, about 15 team members volunteered, and brought their family members to help as well.

So too, the Dam Festival is another favorite for the team’s volunteering efforts. Fitch is on that committee as well.

“I have all sorts of people who volunteer every year for the Dam Festival, some worked for six hours straight last year,” said Fitch. “It’s fun to see the crowds and fun to work with other team members.”

Fitch is also on the Board for Horizon Health’s Harvest Moon Ball. She and her daughter work together on that one. “For the past three years, we volunteer and go around and scout and get auction items. We go together and work the night of the event,” she said.

McConkey said Fitch works about 50 hours per week. “Many of these things are done on her own personal time,” he said of the example Fitch sets for other team members.

One of McConkey’s favorite events the Perkins team volunteers for is the Christmas party at Camp Ripley. Perkins partners with Coborn’s as a sort of “thank you” to the men and women at Camp Ripley.

On the citizen advocacy group for the post commander for the past three years, McConkey said he has “a real sensitivity toward veterans.”

He credited Capt. Chris VonBerge and the Chamber’s Gina Vetter with the Christmas party idea.

Last year, 380 were served at the Camp Ripley event. “We’re really blessed to be able to do that; the Christmas party is a small way of thanking them for their service. It’s one of the few things we can do,” McConkey said.

And when the business takes up a cause, there are no shortage of volunteers, said Fitch. “We have people that volunteer with whatever it is we do. They say, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll do it’ and they are all volunteer hours with no pay.”

Employees are encouraged to volunteer. “The employees have the company’s backing and it appreciates what the employees do and allow for that,” said McConkey.

Perkins is thankful for the community support it has received, said McConkey. Both he and Fitch were surprised, excited and honored to be named the Chamber’s “Large Business of the Year” for 2011.

Perkins will be honored Thursday during the Chamber’s annual meeting at the Falls Ballroom in Little Falls, along with Central Minnesota Electric and Ashley Posterick.

“Everything we do is minimal compared to what the community does for us,” said McConkey.