Purdue HTM training helped propel family’s frozen custard business into fourth generation

Wiley and Bill Lodde pose for a picture with a table full of frozen custard treats.

Son Wiley, left, and father Bill Lodde run two Igloo Frozen Custard locations in Lafayette. They are both graduates of the Purdue University White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Tim Brouk

Written by: Tim Brouk, tbrouk@purdue.edu

A second-generation alumnus of the Purdue University White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) is now the fourth generation of his family’s sweet business.

Wiley Lodde, who earned his HTM degree in 2017, worked for Marriott International in Chicago before coming back home to Lafayette and his family’s legacy — frozen custard — in 2020. The Lodde’s have scooped millions of cones, sundaes and shakes since 1932. The Original Frozen Custard stand in Columbian Park is a Lafayette landmark, and it is one of the oldest family-owned businesses in Indiana. Bill Lodde, Wiley’s father who earned his HTM degree in 1978, expanded the family’s reach by opening Igloo Frozen Custard locations in 1998 and 2001. While both are operated by the same family, the Igloos — and the popular Igloo on the Go mobile unit often seen at Purdue events — are independent from Original Frozen Custard.

Wiley Lodde’s early memories of the family business includes being too little to reach out the drive-up window and too short to see burgers sizzling on the grill. But he did help out where he could.

“When I was a young boy, I’d work in the back as much as my dad would let me,” smiled Wiley Lodde, nodding to nearby Bill Lodde. “I’d help do dishes sometimes and do little tasks. At the end of the day, my dad would pay me in cash, which was nice: I’d get a dollar every day for coming in to help him at work.”

Running the family business was ingrained into Wiley Lodde’s DNA. Young Wiley saw hard work in-action from his father, mother Kathy Lodde, uncles and grandparents keeping the family’s business humming. It stayed with him during his years in Purdue HTM. He gained experience beyond the classroom by working at HTM-affiliated Boiler Bistro and the John Purdue Room, where he was able to experience every facet of restaurant operation that would later serve him well.

Back home in Indiana during a pandemic

Wiley Lodde’s timing to join his Igloo family has been a boost in COVID-19 pandemic times. While he can make a dirt sundae in seconds, he has helped the business keep up in a changed, challenged but still highly competitive market.

Today, the Igloo locations have open drive-throughs. However, the dining room is still closed for the sake of Igloo customers and staff’s safety. In the fall, the walk-up windows were open, and those windows will reopen in the spring. Before then, Wiley will be busy getting the business fortified in the “digital realm.” The restaurants’ social media presence has increased, online ordering was established, and point of sale software was updated in the past year.

“With a lot of the improvements we’ve made over the last 12 months in general, I think those will really start to shine and show the true potential of the business moving forward for years to come,” he said.

It’s a family affair

Frozen custard treats available at Igloo Frozen Custard.

Just some of the treats available at an Igloo Frozen Custard near you.Tim Brouk

Bill Lodde has dedicated his career to frozen custard. He worked alongside his parents and grandparents, the Original Frozen Custard founders Florence and Charles Kirkhoff, when he was a teenager before branching out on his own and starting two successful businesses. The elder Lodde was pleased when his son entered the Purdue HTM program. He knew it would prepare Wiley Lodde for the ins and outs of customer-service based business, just like it did for him when the program was called Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management back in the 1970s. Bill Lodde called former department head Joe Cioch a mentor.

“I told Wiley it’s going to be a very demanding type of job as well in the classroom because it’s all hands-on,” Bill Lodde said. “You have to get your hands dirty, so to speak. You’re always hands-on in this type of a business — back of house and front of house, taking care of customer service. You have to have a broad range of education, knowledge and an attitude that you’ll be able to handle that.”

The family’s business has lasted through 16 U.S. presidents, six U.S. wars, 456 Purdue football victories and countless road construction projects. One pandemic will be on that list as father and son have teamed up to keep Igloo Frozen Custard in the minds, hearts and stomachs of its loyal clientele.

“Purdue HTM, being a rigorous Purdue degree, it equips you with the tool kit that you can be competitive anywhere you go, and I think the value of that is even more important in a small business given that you have to really allocate your resources,” Wiley Lodde said. “It doesn’t have the resources of a large corporation, so I think being armed with a Purdue degree and the rigor of that degree, it prepares you for the challenge of working in a small business and any industry for that matter.”

An exterior shot of an Igloo Frozen Custard location

While the dining room is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive-through window is open year-round at Igloo Frozen Custard locations.Tim Brouk