May 2001

The Andersons -
A Family with Family Values


by Joseph RADDER

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From now on, when we hear the term “family values” we’ll think of the three Andersons we met recently...Nels, Holly (Wildermuth) and Keith.

They all had old-fashioned parental guidance from Carl and Greta Anderson, founders of Anderson’s restaurants. Carl had earned a law degree before entering the Navy. While stationed in the Bronx in 1946, he and Greta decided to open a custard stand as soon as Carl was discharged.

It was right next door to a movie theater and was an instant success. Keith remembers his father telling of how people would come out of the theater in droves after the show, most of them heading directly for Anderson’s custard stand. In 1947, Carl and Greta, both homesick for their native Buffalo, returned home, bringing their frozen custard expertise with them. Carl never did practice law. Instead they opened a stand on Kenmore Avenue. Six years later they needed to expand and built a larger store at 2235 Sheridan Drive.

Meanwhile, they had been raising a family. Jack was the firstborn in 1945, Ann came along in 1952, Nels was the third Anderson baby, born in 1954, then came Holly in 1955 and in 1957 Keith was born.

Jack is a pediatrician in Charolette, North Carolina. Ann is a nurse-psycho therapist in Boston, Massachusetts. The three young Andersons chose the food business. All three remember being raised in a family of strong faith. With the exception of a short detour on Nels’ part, that faith has strengthened them until this day. In fact, Nels has a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies from the Dallas Theological Seminary.

“Mom and Dad were strong on college,” Holly says. There was never any question that all three young Andersons would get their college degrees.

First, of course, came high school (Kenmore West) and working every summer at the custard stand. Keith remembers, “At age 13 you automatically went to work.”

When we asked how it was to grow up in a family that owned a custard stand, Holly remembered that they experienced a life similar to the kids today who have two working parents. Nels said, “Mom always worked in the store, but both Mom and Dad always made sure they’d be home for dinner. However, if the phone rang just once during dinner, that meant their help was needed back at the store.”

Keith said, “At school, everybody knew us as the Anderson kids whose Mom and Dad owned the custard stand. Kids would come up to the window for a cone and call us by name. Often we had no idea who they were, but assumed they were from Kenmore West and gave them a friendly ‘Hi’. After all, there were 1,000 kids in the school at that time and they all seemed to know us.”

Nels was quick to answer our question about their best memory of childhood. “Dad always got us involved in sports,” he said. “We played basketball, football and golf.”

Keith remembered Mondays. “That was payday,” he said. “And we got paid in cash.” Keith was showing his interest in financial matters early. Later he went on to get an accounting degree and today he’s the chief financial officer for the Anderson organization.

Holly remembered Christmases. “The store was closed in the wintertime in those days. Every Christmas vacation, we’d all pile in the car and head for Florida. Dad never believed in making reservations, so we’d usually go from motel to motel until we found a place to stay.”

It’s clear that Carl and Greta Anderson did a great job of parenting despite the fact that they worked so hard for such long hours every summer.

All the young Andersons fulfilled their parents dreams. Jack did his undergraduate work at North Park College and then went to Medical School at Northwestern. Ann was also an undergraduate at North Park and then attended the University of Michigan. Nels graduated from Alfred Tech and Florida International University and just recently earned his Theological degree. Holly went to North Park College in Chicago. Keith attended Wittenburg University.

Knowing that there are now nine Anderson’s stores, each with extensive food menus as well as ice cream and custard, we were curious to know what motivated their expansion.

Holly said, “We had little choice. By the time the 1980s rolled around, there were four families trying to make a living out of one store and it wasn’t enough.” So they bought the property on Main Street in Williamsville in 1985.

It took four years to get the Town of Amherst’s approval to build. Although there was strong opposition to Andersons moving in, today the store enjoys “a great relationship with great neighbors.” It’s rumored that some of those protesting neighbors are now regular guests at Anderson’s.

Expansion seemed to happen naturally after that first new store quickly became a success. Plans are now underway to build a 10th store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst and an 11th in Rochester.

What’s the secret of Anderson’s success? There seem to be several answers to that question. First, they are a family with family values and they get along great. (“Most of the time,” Holly says.) Second, they trust in God and believe he is guiding them daily. Third, they complement each other with a good balance of talents. And fourth, they are constantly involved in the business with a fierce dedication to quality and guest satisfaction.

Holly’s husband, Kirk Wildermuth, is also an executive in the company and shares the family’s views. He wasn’t present for our interview, but we know the others think of him as an Anderson and an important contributor to the firm’s success.

One cannot help but be impressed by the apparent constant effort to improve. On the day we visited, they were taste-testing a new hot fudge, comparing it with the one they are now serving. “A tough job,” Nels said. There was no doubt in our mind that they would make the best choice.

Obviously, the Andersons have been making good choices and good decisions from the very beginning. As we see it, the best decision was to stay in business together.

Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.

 

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