Anna Doran and Lindsay Lechman met almost eight years ago when their dogs got in a fight while they were hiking on Mount Helena.
A couple of weeks later, they ran into each other on the Downtown Walking Mall while Doran was getting ready to open a Big Dipper Ice Cream location in Helena, and Lechman asked to scoop ice cream on weekends. Three months later, Lechman quit her job with the state to manage Big Dipper. Now, Lechman is officially the new owner.
The Walking Mall has changed a lot in the eight years since Big Dipper opened its doors. When Doran went to the bank to apply for a loan, they encouraged her to look for space on North Montana Avenue.
“They said: ‘Don’t do it. The Walking Mall is dead,’” she said.
But Doran already had a soft spot for the Walking Mall, where she would bring her two young kids in a stroller. With Taco Del Sol nearby, Doran hoped the two businesses would bring people to the Walking Mall for a meal and dessert.
Now the Walking Mall is also home to the Hawthorn Bottle Shop and Tasting Room and Ten Mile Creek Brewing. On a Facebook post announcing Doran was selling Big Dipper to Lechman, numerous people thanked Doran for helping to revitalize the Walking Mall.
“It’s so cool to see other people have that vision,” Doran said. “It’s such a fun family place to be.”
Big Dipper’s popularity in Missoula also gave Doran an advantage as a small business owner. The original shop in Missoula opened in 1995 and often has a line that wraps around the block. It also received national attention after being featured on "Good Morning America" and other media outlets. The shops in Missoula, Helena and Billings all offer the same core flavors and share recipes for specials. Lechman said Helena can be creative with its specials, which has encouraged partnerships with other local businesses like Ten Mile Creek Brewing and Firetower Coffee.
When Doran started thinking about selling the business, she knew she didn’t want to put it out on the market for anyone to buy. Because Lechman had been there since day one, Doran said she knew Lechman would go above and beyond to maintain the business. When she decided she was ready to step back, she told Lechman to make an offer. Lechman ended up putting in an offer the day before her baby was born.
Lechman took over on Jan. 1 and said she doesn’t expect anything to change. Doran will also be around in case Lechman needs a babysitter or someone to make ice cream.
Both Doran and Lechman said it's important for a business owner to be present, and for their employees to see them doing everything from mopping floors to making ice cream.
“We do it all,” Doran said. “They’re seeing how hard we work.”
Because of that, employees come back each summer, and some have stayed on call for years. Doran said one employee worked at Big Dipper while she was a junior in high school. Now a nurse at St. Peter’s, the employee will still come back in to make ice cream when needed.
“I’m so happy it’s worked out this way,” Doran said.