Prince Frederick, MD- The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a ribbon cutting ceremony today to celebrate the grand opening of Dunkin’ Donuts in Prince Frederick.
The BOCC recognized Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner Maria Icaza and thanked her for opening up a location in Calvert County and for providing 30 new jobs for local citizens. The new 2,300-square-foot location offers a convenient drive-thru for customers and fast, friendly service.
Icaza currently owns three Dunkin’ shops in St. Mary’s County and built a fourth from the ground up in Prince Edward County. Her first store, located in California, Maryland, opened in 2007, and the second launched in Charlotte Hall, in 2011. The third opened in Leonardtown in 2016. A fifth store, in Prince Frederick in Calvert County, is now open.
Selling donuts and coffee is a change from Icaza’s original career path. Icaza attended New England School of Law in Boston, where she earned her law degree and met her future husband, Glenn Heisler. Living in Boston, she became familiar with the coffee and offerings at area Dunkin’ shops, but her sights were set on practicing international law. Originally from Panama, Icaza returned home with her husband after graduation. For 10 years, she worked for a Panama City law firm, ultimately becoming a partner. Heisler, in the meantime, worked for the Panama Canal until the end of 1999, when Canal ownership reverted from the U.S. to Panama and his job was eliminated. At that point, the couple decided they wanted to return to the East Coast of the United States.
By then, the couple had two small children—Carolina and Julia. Robert, their third child, would arrive soon after. Icaza chose to stay home with them while Heisler took a position as an attorney for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. As the kids grew, Icaza pondered her next career move; she didn’t want to return to a law firm. When her in-laws came for a visit in 2005, it sparked a career change.
“My mother-in-law said, ‘You need a Dunkin’ Donuts down here,’” Icaza recalls. “We looked it up on Saturday, and on Monday we called the brand, and here we are.
Cultivating the Right Culture
In her decade-plus as a Dunkin’ operator, Icaza has learned the importance of surrounding yourself with the best people. But it remains one of her foremost challenges. “Finding the right people is tough,” she says. “There are more people retiring today than coming into the workforce. This young generation doesn’t necessarily want to work when they have vacation or summer or other things.”
Plus, her location, about 60 miles from Washington, D.C., presents a competitive challenge. “But I’m ok with that,” she says, pointing out that she is always “trying to cultivate a culture in my network so that people want to come in and work for us.”
Once in the door, Icaza’s team will “shadow the new crew members in their first week, and do online training,” says Icaza. “We try to keep our meetings serious but fun when it comes to operations.” Younger workers, especially like to be trained and appreciate being given credit when they learn things, she says.
Icaza remembers people when they are off the clock, too.
“We’ve had times when one of the crew has had to go to the hospital or has had health issues, and I’ve gone to the hospital to visit them,” she says. “The nurses would say, ‘Bosses don’t typically come back here.’ But you take care of the people that take care of you—that’s what makes us different than our competition.”
Icaza’s Dunkin’ stores are involved in several community service initiatives. They include Cops on the Rooftops, where local police officers spend 24 hours hanging out atop Dunkin’ shops while collecting donations to raise money for Special Olympics. It’s a cause Icaza feels strongly about; five of her employees have special needs. Her stores also raise money to assist veterans with medical and living costs. Icaza served on the board of directors for her local chamber of commerce and her shops sponsor a variety of initiatives in the local schools, including sports and teacher appreciation days.
Community service also happens at the local level. One elderly couple, Jackie and Jerry, were regular customers at her California and Leonardtown stores, but then stopped coming in for their daily breakfast order. “I didn’t know if something bad had happened, but we knew which retirement home they lived in,” says Icaza. “We went to the front desk there with their meal and asked if anyone had seen them—we didn’t even know their last name. It turned out one of them had had a bad infection and couldn’t get out of the house.”
The couple is OK now and is back to their regular Dunkin’ visits. Jim, another regular customer, has undergone cancer treatment several times but still makes it into the Charlotte Hall Dunkin’ shop when he can.
“Whenever he loses his hair, he comes to the store with a pink or purple wig,” Icaza says. “He knows we are there for them.”
The strength of such relationships—at the local level with her customers and communities, or at the store level honoring a trusted associate with a Hoover Dam helicopter ride—are an important part of Icaza’s story as a successful Dunkin’ franchise owner.