For Dakota King, Inc., people have always come first.
The Sioux Falls-based Burger King franchise, whose locations include Yankton, Vermillion and Beresford, has strived for nearly 40 years to help its customers, employees and the communities it serves.
"It all comes down to people," said Tom Walsh Jr., who owns Dakota King, Inc., with his father, Tom Walsh Sr. "If your people know you care and you take care of your people, they'll take care of everything else."
In recognition of their commitment and success, the father and son were recently named as finalists for Burger King's North America Franchisee of the Year Award. Candidates for the award are chosen based on successful operations, sales, community involvement and overall business model.
The Walshes were recognized among fellow franchisees, top Burger King executives and employees in attendance at the 2012 BKW North America Convention held in Las Vegas.
"Our franchisees' commitment to the Burger King brand and dedication to service at every one of their restaurants is the reason that the brand continues to solidify its position as the QSR food authority," said Steve Wiborg, North America president of Burger King Worldwide, in a news release. "Guest service and the happiness of their employees are a top priority for Tom Walsh Sr. and Tom Walsh Jr., which is why they have continued to experience great success at all of their Burger King restaurant locations, performing nearly 10 percent above peer average."
Walsh Jr. said it is an honor for his franchise's teams to be recognized as some of the best in the business.
"Their hard work and caring attitude towards our guests and our communities is what has made us successful," he said.
Walsh Sr. began the business in 1974, opening his first Burger King location in Sioux Falls. Since then, the franchise has grown to include 30 restaurants in the South Dakota area, including Yankton's location, which opened in 1986.
The company has won numerous local, regional and national awards for operational excellence, community involvement and development programs. The franchise also is involved in more than 300 charitable and non-profit programs, such as the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
"With each of these communities we came into, it's been our goal to be involved in each community and to make things better and really develop people," Walsh, Jr. said.
He said this is especially true for the communities' youth, noting that Dakota King, Inc., is the largest employer of teenagers in South Dakota.
"It's our belief that it's up to us to teach them right and get them off to the right start with their work ethic, and develop them so they're ready for life in general, and they're ready for their next career if they choose to leave us," he said. "Over about 95 percent of our managers have started with us as a teenager and continued on into management and have chosen to make it part of their careers."
Walsh Jr. said that in addition to developing its employees within its operations, Dakota King, Inc., also has successfully promoted community involvement with its workers. He said he has seen many employees go above and beyond their normal duties, including visiting regular customers in the hospital.
"It's just a small-town piece that we love, and that's what South Dakota is about," he said.
You can follow Derek Bartos on Twitter at twitter.com/d_bartos