When specialty ice cream shop Aurora Sweets opened two years ago, it created competition for a longtime fixture down the hall of Mendenhall Mall.
But it was actually well timed.
Udder Culture, a mom-and-pop frozen yogurt and sandwich shop that has been in business for over 34 years, was searching for new ownership, as business owner Dan Penrose readied to retire. A longtime Udder Culture employee, Randi Pearce, knocked on Aurora Sweets’ door earlier this year, inquiring whether they would like to take it over.
The answer was yes. And they wanted Pearce to be a part of the venture, too.
“Dan has really created a wonderful business, and we didn’t want to see it close,” Windy Swearingin said. Swearingin opened Aurora Sweets in the fall of 2017 with her husband, Kelly.
“We thought bringing in Aurora Sweets, bringing in our milkshakes, our coffee, could just strengthen the business,” she added.
The Swearingins and Pearce took ownership of Udder Culture on Nov. 18, a day after Aurora Sweets closed down for good.
They plan to bring forth some more changes with the merge — tacking on “featuring Aurora Sweets” to the name, for instance — but said most things will remain the same.
“There are definitely some things that we’re going to change, and some things that we’re going to make our own,” Windy said. “But we do want to keep his motif a little bit.”
Udder Culture has decor displaying Christian faith — the shop plays Christian music and hangs Bible verses on its walls.
For Pearce, it marks an exciting return to the business. Pearce rejoined the Udder Culture staff about a year ago when Penrose pitched the idea of taking over. The merging now means she has all of his sandwich and soup recipes.
“He was looking at retiring when I came back,” Pearce said. “He said, ‘You might be the answer to my prayers.’”
Pearce first worked at Udder Culture from 1993-1996 and holds Penrose and his business in high regard. Pearce said that the Christian faith was evident in Penrose’s business style, noting it wasn’t uncommon for Penrose to give workers who had not worked out a second chance.
“It’s the Christian morals and stuff that Dan instilled with all of us — treat others as Jesus would; do unto others as you would have done unto yourself, that kind of attitude,” Pearce said. “He always kept this environment so peaceful and happy. This was one of the happiest times I could remember in my life, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to come back here.”
Udder Culture has been at its current location since the mid-1980s. Penrose declined an interview, but one of his longtime employees, Karlin Davis, said he was owner 34 years. Davis has worked at Udder Culture since 2008.
“I’ve worked all of the shifts possible to work at this job without being the owner,” Davis said. “Overall, I’ve loved working for Dan, and I’ve been enjoying working for Randi and just the takeover of her taking over morning shifts (for Dan) and running things. There’s been a few bumps in the road, just with technology and the learning of technology, but other than that, the sandwiches are the same. Everyone is enjoying their food.”
Aurora Sweets needed a move sooner or later, Kelly Swearingin said. The size of the old space — about 800-square feet — and the fact it was accessible only from inside the mall both limited its growth possibilities.
“It was almost like a godsend,” Kelly said of being approached by Udder Culture.
In addition to adding their milkshakes to the menu, the new owners also plan to install a coffee bar similar to what they had before.
“It will still be Udder Culture, it’s just going to have a mixture of Aurora Sweets in there too,” Windy said.
• Contact reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.