Frozen treats has been around and enjoyed for years and years, but the soft-serve concept wasn’t developed until 1938 by Iowa-born John Fremont McCullough and his son Alex. Together they convinced a buddy, Sherb Noble, to offer the innovative product in his frozen treats store in Kankakee, Illinois, a small town south of Chicago. On the first day of sales, to everyone’s surprise, Noble dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert within a couple of hours. (Seems like it was popular.) Knowing they were onto something big, Noble and also the McCulloughs went on to open the initial Dairy Queen a couple of years later in Joliet, Illinois, placing Mr. Noble at the helm (who better) which opened for business on June 22, perfect timing for the long, hot summer. Although this original site has not been in operation since the 1950s, the building still stands as being a designated landmark, hearkening back to simpler times for Boomers who go by.
For many years, Dairy Queens were and therefore are a fixture of self confidence in small towns from the Midwest and South and through the 70s, maintaining the times (as well as the competition), most DQs added fast food, including hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, referring to their newest menu items as “Brazier.” Although several shops are just open in the summer, most stay open year-round. In the end, why consume frozen treats just seasonally until you are now living in North Dakota? The largest store is found in Bloomington, IL, home of a state university, Busiest honors visit Prince Edward Island, Canada (go figure). In 2014, Dairy Queen listed over 6,400 stores in more than 25 countries (75% of which are in the U.S.). For years, the old adage boasted every Texas town enjoyed a DQ. While no longer literally true as small-town America dwindles, the largest concentration is still in the Lone Star State.
All DQs now provide the Orange Julius drink, a brand name that they acquired in 1987, and several shops can be found in food courts and shopping centers nationwide. DQ actually has two official fan clubs: Blizzard and Orange Julius. Blizzard fans, over 4 million strong, place their choices seriously, with a variety of ingredients and mix-ins available. DQ even offers specialty soft ice cream cakes, along with their traditional collection of soft-serve treats, cone dippings and toppings.
Across the nation, many single-unit mom and pop stands took notice and opened up on Memorial Day catering to the neighborhood children, with walk-up stands, often calling themselves “frozen custard.” No one cared exactly what the name was, Dairy Queen breakfast meant vanilla and chocolate creamy cones and cups, maybe a few picnic tables to linger at, and an after-dinner treat within walking distance of home. Local kids looked forward to their short but sweet hours, which sadly closed after Labor Day. Simple names like Al’s, Bert’s or Tastee Treat started yfewqe show up on busy corners and kids rode their bikes eagerly anticipating what awaited them, with a dime or even a quarter stashed within their pocket. Rarely did these stands offer greater than the two basic flavors, but when one was lucky, there could be a strawberry flavor as well (oh, boy). (Author’s note: her local soft-serve stand featured green mint, that was on the top, particularly with hot fudge.)
Minor competitors like Tastee-Freez and Fosters Freeze both were only available in California within the 1950s and have under 50 locations each but carry on and thrive with a cadre of loyal customers.
So who is up for some soft-serve? Any time of year it hits the spot. Should you don’t have shops in your area, perhaps a frozen yogurt, however it won’t function as the same. Look at your local shopping mall and you simply might luck out. And don’t worry: mom was wrong, it won’t spoil your dinner.