A sister company

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The Nickel family is no stranger to doing business in Exeter.

Gene Nickel helped start Exeter’s first grocery store, Nickel’s Payless on Kaweah Avenue. Across the parking lot he and his wife, Carol Nickel, brought the first franchise restaurant to town with A&W. And now, Carol’s three daughters are carrying on the tradition by starting their own business and bringing Exeter’s first dessert chain to town.

Sisters Leslie Rivas, Tracey Stearns and Stephanie Lusk are owners of the newest business in Exeter – TCBY. The soft-serve yogurt shop has remodeled the former residence of the Rocky Hill Ice Cream Parlour at 112 S. E St. in downtown Exeter. It is the only TCBY between Fresno and Bakersfield and the only self-serve TCBY between Sothern California and the Bay Area.

“We wanted to bring something to the community, something our kids would look forward to,” Tracey said. “We are all involved in the community so supporting local youth sports, holding kids birthday parties and other special events is something we are very familiar with.”

TCBY, an acronym for The Country’s Best Yogurt, will have five flavors flowing from its self-serve machines and 15 when you count flavor combinations in Exeter. They will also offer 36 toppings along a self-serve bar filled with candies, cookies, fruit and nuts and sauces in a cup or on a waffle cone. There will also be cakes and pies for sale.

“We hope it will meet all of the community’s expectations,” Stephanie said. “We are all very excited to get started.”

It’s no wonder their business is called Yosistrz, LLC. Born within five years of each other in Idaho, the sisters have always been close. They grew up playing games together, attended the same church in St. Clement’s in Woodlake and are all teachers. Now in her 23rd year of teaching, Leslie is a first grade teacher at F.J. White Learning Center in Woodlake. Not far behind is Tracy, who has been a resource teacher at Exeter Union High School for about 20 years. The youngest, Stephanie, teaches at Connections Academy, an online charter school.

“Training the employees should come pretty naturally because these are the same skills teachers use in the classroom everyday,” Leslie said.

Leslie and Tracey went to a 10-day training at TCBY in Salt Lake City, Utah. The sisters noticed a few things about customer tendencies and have tried to model and organize their shop accordingly.

“We decided on the self serve because regulars had a very specific way about how they wanted their frozen yogurt,” Tracey said.

Leslie added, “We know there were plenty of parents like us who were driving to Visalia for frozen yogurt. There is such a soft serve craze right now we think it’s something fun and new for Exeter.”

But getting TCBY to approve a franchise in Exeter was not a smooth as frozen yogurt.

“We really talked up Exeter to get them to see the potential here,” Leslie said. “We showed them the murals, talked about the tours and there were a lot of people in downtown that day.”

After getting the frozen yogurt franchise,

“We couldn’t have done it without our mother’s support,” Leslie said. “She has been the contact person for the last six months while we were all teaching. We didn’t have time to get together.”

Much of the legwork to bring TCBY to town was done by the women’s mother, Carol. She played the key role in building A&W in 1992. She helped the girls navigate the franchise system and brings valuable experience in holding ground against any competition that might come to town.

“No one wanted to come to Exeter. But the year after we built A&W, McDonald’s came to town, then Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, you name it,” Carol said. “But after each initial wave, there seems to be enough to go around for everyone.”

TCBY in Exeter will hold its grand opening on Saturday, July 20 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Prior to that date, the shop will be hiring for several positions. The sisters said they will hire two full-time shift managers and four part-time employees to work the shop. Each sister will oversee a different part of the company – finance, ordering and personnel.

“It’s a new challenge for all of us, but as teachers new challenges are always exciting and something to look forward to,” Leslie said.

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