An Alaskan man is using his Anchorage-based ice cream shop as an extension of the Catholic faith, supporting the local community’s spiritual and economic needs as well as its sweet tooth.
Rich Owens is the owner of Tastee Freez located at Jewel Lake in Anchorage. The shop has become something of a mentorship program for the area’s youth, and Owens has a strong sense of giving back to his community.
“I think that being raised in the church aims us in the right direction,” Owens told the Catholic Anchor.
“We learned from watching our mom and dad that this is the way that you live your life,” he said. “This is the rule, not the exception.”
Owens said he has been eating Tastee Freez since he was a child. Having developed a career in the retail business in Montana, he wanted to own his own business in Alaska and purchased the shop in 1994. The actual shop, though, celebrated its 60th anniversary earlier this year.
The shop is the largest Tastee Freez establishment in the country. The franchise recognized Owens as the Operator of the Year in 2006 and 2015.
Owens saw the business as an opportunity to emphasize his Catholic faith by means of community service. The programs have aided the community’s Catholic formation, employment opportunities, and even provided a tasty snack during the holidays.
The ice cream shop has been used as a workforce center. An estimated 700 employees, often 17-year-olds, have gained onsite job experience at Owens’ Tastee Freez.
“Some of these kids come from some pretty hard situations,” Owens said. “It doesn’t cost anything lots of times to be that individual, and you can have an impact on communities by being a good mentor.”
Owens’ Tastee Freez also partnered with the National Guard to initiate Operation Santa Claus. During the Christmas season, the program delivers thousands of ice cream sundaes to people in over 60 villages.
As a board member for the nonprofit group Catholic Camp and Conference Ministries of Alaska, Owens helped with the purchase of St. Therese’s Camp in Wasilla in 2012. The 57-acre summer camp allows children and teens to grow in knowledge of the Church in the Alaskan wilderness.
Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz of Anchorage called the camp a blessing to the community.
“This center will provide a great resource to the Catholic Church as well as the broader community,” he said. “I welcome their efforts and commend them for the hard work they have undertaken.”