Rusty Rasmussen, owner of the Custard Factory

Project Management is a Sweet Deal


Rusty Rasmussen knows a thing or two about being a project manager. He recognizes the importance of understanding the task at hand, how to handle any issues, and how to make clients happy, ensuring repeat business. He has many years’ experience doing whatever it takes to get the job done and how to do it well. He takes on this role with Outreach’s Center for Public Management (CPM) for 40 hours a week, but also 24 hours a day, seven days a week as the owner of Norman’s own Custard Factory.

The Jobs at a Glance

Rasmussen’s day job is with CPM as a project manager. In this role, he facilitates training for the child support division of the large SATTRN contract. He assists with developing training objectives, evaluating the effectiveness of the training, and looking for ways to provide clients with a greater return without added investment. Those tasks are just the tip of the project manager iceberg as far as his skillset is concerned. Rasmussen knows that with his “40-hour a week part-time job,” you’re a project manager every minute of the day.

“People don’t give small business owners the true benefit of what they are,” Rasmussen said. “The small business owner is a business professional, a human resources professional, a salesperson and the marketing person, and you also have to be a maintenance person, a dishwasher, not to mention a strategic planner. Considering all that, I’m just happy to be open!”

“The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth”

His first store, Rusty’s Frozen Custard, opened its doors Feb. 1st, 2001 on Norman’s east side. They quickly grew to multiple stores and eventually grew to having franchises and sister locations, but as it often does, life happens and things changed. The stores went through changes, the dessert cravings of America shifted, gas prices rocketed, and eventually, the other locations were closed. But Rasmussen was determined to keep his loyalty to Norman and didn’t give up.

Rusty will celebrate 15 years of being open on March 26

Rusty will celebrate 15 years of being open on March 26

“If I were to write a book, I’d call it The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Small Business in America”, Rasmussen said. “It’s truly the process we’ve gone through. I’m very happy to have the store still open.”

Rasmussen is excited to be celebrating the store’s 15th anniversary this spring. The only thing that has changed is the name, which is now the Custard Factory. He has done some slight remodeling of the décor and retooling of the menu, but the custard is still the same delicious product that Norman can’t get enough of. Customers recently gave the store their best-selling day in February when the weather took a warm mild turn. Rasmussen gives all the credit to their quality products, great customer service, and, of course, to the customers themselves.

“When you sit back and think about it, the only reason we are here is because of our customers,” he said. “We survived the great yogurt boom of 2012, followed by the great cupcake explosion the next year, so we’ve survived all that. We are now, 15 years later, still the only locally owned ice cream store in Norman.”

“If We Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It”

The Love Machine concrete, with vanilla custard, chocolate flakes, and strawberries

The Love Machine concrete, with vanilla custard, chocolate flakes, and strawberries

As the only locally owned ice cream store in Norman, Rusty’s has a reputation to live up to. The menu is broken into decadent sundaes, creamy concretes, classic floats, shakes, and cones. One of the most popular treats on the menu, which Rasmussen recommends for first-time customers, is the Love Machine, which combines vanilla custard, chocolate flakes, and strawberries. But the topping options for concretes make choosing a real challenge. Rasmussen’s admonition to his customers is: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” The Custard Factory’s menu boasts more than 40 toppings to choose from and anywhere from two to four custard flavors depending on the season.

“You can come to my store every day for more than three years and not get the same thing,” Rasmussen said. “And that is only with the vanilla custard. When the other flavors are considered, you can come to the store every day for nine years and have something new.”

Changes, Challenges, and Getting It Done

Rasmussen acknowledges that the work at the store is never done. There is seldom a true day off from both jobs, as he often works in the store on the weekends. The days spent at the store can often be long and that whole time is spent on foot. Rasmussen wore a pedometer once and said he walked more than three miles just within the confines of the store. But as busy and exhausting as it can be, Rasmussen knows he is going to get it taken care of.

“I put in a 12-hour day last Saturday. I had to go the store, then the bank, interview a possible employee, then working behind the counter because we started getting busy and you just do it. You don’t have time to think about it.”

But the lack of processing time isn’t a problem for Rasmussen. He has faced changes and challenges head-on in both of his jobs and knows the experience of problem-solving and quick thinking only makes him a better manager. In both the small business world and the grants and contracts world, the biggest constant is change. Planning ahead is a difficult thing to do in the world of small business.

“I’m only planning for the next five years because my last five years were completely different from what I expected,” Rasmussen said. “I never thought I’d be the ice cream guy, and then I’d never thought I’d be the project manager guy.”

A Sweet, Sunny Future?

No matter what the future holds for Rasmussen the project manager, it is sure to be sweet. He looks forward to any new opportunities that OU holds for him, acknowledging that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the chance CPM took on a small business owner. But he has known for quite a long time that he has what it takes to be a project manager.

“I’ve always done project management. It wasn’t under the guise of a title, but it’s what I do naturally. I’ve got 15 years of experience doing exactly what I do now. I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing it; I joke about moving to the beach and that could happen tomorrow! You never know!”