When Mike Thielen was 13 years old, he filled in for his sister’s baby-sitting gig just so he could get a closer look at his neighbor’s helicopter. When the parents returned from their night out, they asked him: Do you want $5 or a ride home in the helicopter?
He accepted the ride and that moment sparked something in him. When he got home, he told his mom he wanted to be a helicopter pilot.
“I started working for him, loading and unloading passengers,” he said. “We’d go to county fairs, and state fairs, and air shows, and I would just work for rides home.”
In 1994, at 23 years old, Thielen bought his first helicopter, and in 1995, he launched a helicopter touring company that whisked passengers off to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.
Over the years, the business evolved into Glacier Aviation, a helicopter and airplane flight school with roughly 60 students working toward their licenses each year, in Tumwater (with a branch in Skagit Valley).
The Tumwater location also acts as a refueling station and concierge of sorts for corporate elites visiting the area in private jets.
In 2012, Thielen and his brother, Andy, bought the historic Washington State Liquor store in Olympia, rebranded it as T Brothers Liquor Lodge, and renovated the nearly 7,000-square-foot space. In 2015, they refurbished the expansive warehouse portion of the store, formerly used as product backstock, and opened a members-only shooting range. Word of the hidden gun range inside a liquor store spread by word of mouth, and membership went from 50 to about 1,000, many of whom are local business professionals.
The six-lane shooting range, with a state-of-the-art HVAC unit specially designed for indoor gun ranges, lockers, a private cigar lounge, and classroom area, was a roughly $750,000 investment. Mike Thielen mostly handles the big-picture planning for the liquor store and gun range, while his brother handles the day-to-day operations.
Together they’ve created a welcoming, customer-first business model that is serving them well on both sides of their businesses.
“People come in here, and they’re having a tough day, and they walk out smiling,” he said of the shooting range. “It’s what we call recoil therapy. Shooting makes people happy. It’s a stress reliever for them.”
The Olympia native took us through a day in his life.
OK, I admit: I am not a morning person! Sitting in the hot tub drinking my coffee is how I wake up and start my morning. However, I do use this time to read and respond to all my email, make phone calls, and get caught up to my late start to the day.
Believe it or not, I love working out. This is a daily routine for me. Working out not only gets my body energized but helps me mentally feel good, as well. As a commercial helicopter pilot and a drag racer, the FAA and NHRA require me to pass a physical each year. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is!
As one of the perks of owning a helicopter flight school, I occasionally get to commute from home to work by helicopter. What would normally be a 25- to 30-minute drive in my car takes only six minutes in the helicopter.
I enjoy being hands-on and part of the day-to-day operations. Here, I am discussing student progress with senior instructor Mike Murphy. Flight training is a fairly risky business, so having your finger on the pulse is a must.
Discussing jet parking with 18-year vice president and good friend Gary Bankers. Gary and I communicate throughout the day to stay on the same page with multiple activities. Glacier has students arriving from all over the country and starting our program on a weekly basis.
Arriving at the T Brothers Liquor Lodge/Glacier Gun Club indoor shooting range. Yes, you heard that right: guns and booze. I know what you’re thinking: What could possibly go wrong with that combo? Actually, it’s quite the opposite. This is probably the safest liquor store and gun range in the country.
Arriving at the race shop. Drag racing has been a big part of my life for the last 14 years. This is serious business, especially with a car that goes 200 mph in a quarter mile. I get to enjoy this business with my wife, Lori, who crews on the team, along with my good friend and crew chief, Greg Grohe.
Getting an early start to dinner. When you own and work at several businesses, you eat dinner when you can. We like supporting local restaurants, especially the ones that support the T Brothers Liquor Lodge with their wine and spirit needs. Thank you, El Sarape!