Dairy Queen (DQ) is an American network of soft serve ice cream and fast food restaurants owned by Berkshire Hathaway. International Dairy Queen Inc. also owns Orange Julius and Karmelkorn.
The first DQ opened in Joliet, Illinois. Sherb Noble ran it and it first opened on June 22, 1940. It served soft serve ice cream and other frozen treats.
The corporation is headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota.
John Fremont “Grandpa” McCullough and his son Alex invented soft-serve in 1938. They persuaded Sherb Noble of Kankakee, Illinois, to stock the product in his ice cream parlor. On the first day of sales, Noble served almost 1,600 servings in two hours. In 1940, Noble and the McCulloughs opened the first Dairy Queen in Joliet, Illinois. While this Dairy Queen has been closed since the 1950s, the 501 N Chicago Street building remains a local monument.
From ten locations in 1941 to one hundred in 1947, 1,446 in 1950, and 2,600 in 1955, the chain has used a franchising structure to grow globally. Melville, Saskatchewan, Canada, had the first store in 1953. Texas has the most Dairy Queen restaurants in the US. The state with the most Dairy Queen restaurants per capita is Minnesota.
Investors bought individual Dairy Queen restaurants in the 1990s, hoping to maximize profits through economies of scale. Vasari, LLC owned and operated 70 Dairy Queens in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. These investing firms closed stores that did not fulfill their profit expectations. On October 30, 2017, Vasari LLC filed for bankruptcy and announced the closure of 29 locations, including 10 in Texas.
Dairy Queen’s parent company is International Dairy Queen Inc. American Dairy Queen Corp. runs it in the US. It had over 6,400 outlets in over 25 countries by the end of 2014, with 4,500 (about 70%) in the US. The red Dairy Queen logo debuted in 1958. In 1962, it became International Dairy Queen Inc. IDQ is the parent corporation of American Dairy Queen Corporation, Dairy Queen Canada Inc., and other Dairy Queen franchisees.
IDQ bought Orange Julius in 1987. Berkshire Hathaway bought IDQ in 1998.
In the 1950s and 1960s, small towns in the Midwest and South had Dairy Queens. They have become an icon of small-town America, like in Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond, Robert Inman’s Dairy Queen Days, and Bob Greene’s Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights. Restaurants were “Brazier” locations with a second store for storage, recognized by their red mansard roofs. Dairy Queen had over 6,400 locations in 27 countries at the end of 2014, including over 1,400 outside the US and Canada.
Bloomington, Illinois, has the largest Dairy Queen in the US. The world’s largest store is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The world’s busiest store is in Charlottetown, PEI.
While some DQ restaurants exclusively provide frozen sweets and are only open in the spring and summer, most DQ locations serve hot cuisine and are open all year. Limited Braziers may also provide hot dogs, barbecue beef (or pig) sandwiches, french fries, and chicken, but not hamburgers. Dairy Queen Full Brazier locations feature burgers, fries, grilled and crispy chicken, frozen delights, and hot dogs. Some buildings developed in the 1990s have the motto “Hot Eats, Cool Treats” printed on windows or near the roof. In Woodinville, Washington, the motto was printed near the tops of the windows of a former Dairy Queen Brazier. Around late 2016–2017, this location became a Grill & Chill.
A Dairy Queen franchise requires $400,000 in liquid capital and a $750,000 net worth. Total investment ranges from $1.1 million to $1.8 million, with a $45,000 franchise fee. There are 5,700 Dairy Queens. Aside from the initial investment, Dairy Queen franchisees pay a 4% royalty and an advertising royalty of 5%-6%. The franchise deal is for 20 years and is renewable.
Dairy Queen does not offer in-house financing. Credit card payments are accepted for payment of franchise fees and startup costs. The “Treat Center” idea adds drinks and food from the Orange Julius menu to the original locations. In shopping center food courts, this was the chosen concept for new small-scale shops. Karmelkorn was an early Treat Center.
Edmonton’s Dairy Queen Brazier. This DQ is now a Grill & Chill. Jim Cruikshank, one of the company’s franchisees, created the standardized meal system in 1957. In a New York restaurant, he saw flames rising from an open charcoal grill (a brazier).
Since 1993, the “Brazier” name has been gradually taken out of signs and advertising, though not entirely, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. However, the website’s store locator still lists the stores that do not carry the “Grill & Chill” name as “Dairy Queen Brazier” and smaller stores as “Dairy Queen Ltd Brazier” and “Dairy Queen Stores”.
According to the company’s history section and several FAQ subjects, its burger and hot dog products are still “Brazier Foods.”
A Canadian DQ Grill & Chill
There’s also table delivery and self-serve soft drinks at DQ Grill & Chill. It is a novel idea for full-service restaurants. The stores are larger and have a fresh look. They usually have a larger menu with breakfast, GrillBurgers, and grilled sandwiches, and minimal table service (customers still place orders at the counter). They also provide self-serve soda machines with free refills. Some of the older businesses have been renovated. But some older establishments haven’t updated to the new format. The first two Dairy Queen Grill and Chill locations opened in December 2001 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Bloomington, Illinois, has the nation’s largest DQ Grill & Chill.
A Dairy Queen in Burnet, Texas, utilizing the former logo Tex-Mex Cuisine. Most Texas stores employ a separate hot food menu branded as Texas Country Foods. The “Hunger-Buster” burgers replace the Brazier and GrillBurger options. A half-pound double meat hamburger known as the “BeltBuster” is also unique to Texas. The state of Texas has the most Dairy Queens. Franchisees own and operate all Texas Dairy Queen businesses. The Texas Dairy Queen Operators’ Council (TDQOC) has its own marketing website. Bob Phillips, host of the iconic Texas syndicated television series Texas Country Reporter, was for many years the DQ spokesman in Texas.
Added in 1950 were malts and milkshakes; banana splits in 1951; Dilly Bars in 1955 (introduced by Robert Litherland, co-owner of a store in Moorhead, Minnesota); Mr. Misty slush treats in 1961 (later renamed Misty Slush, then Arctic Rush; as of 2017, DQ calls them Misty Slush); Jets, Curly Tops, and Freezes in 1964; and a range David Skjerven created the Buster Bar in 1962 in Grafton, North Dakota, out of vanilla soft serve in the shape of a tiny cup, topped with peanuts and chocolate. Forrest ‘Frosty’ Chapman introduced the Peanut Buster Parfait in 1971 in his St. Peter, Minnesota franchise. For a Blizzard-like experience, the Breeze was introduced in 1990. It was discontinued in 2000. The Chicken Strip Basket (only available in the US) was developed in 1995. (gravy in Canada). Sundaes and the MooLatte, a coffee blend, are also available.
A popular Dairy Queen item is the Blizzard, which is soft-serve blended with sundae toppings and/or cookies, brownies, or candy bits. It has been a menu mainstay since 1985, when Dairy Queen sold over 100 million Blizzards. A few of the most popular are Oreo, mint Oreo, and chocolate chip cookie dough (Crispy Crunch in Canada). Seasonal flavors include pumpkin pie in October and cotton candy in June. Some say Dairy Queen was inspired by St. Louis’ Ted Drewes’ concrete. On July 26, 2010, Dairy Queen released a new 6 oz. small Blizzard. Strawberry Golden Oreo Blizzard and Buster Bar Blizzard were released to celebrate the Blizzard’s 25th anniversary. Salted Caramel Truffle was introduced in 2015 to celebrate Blizzard’s 30th and Dairy Queen’s 75th birthdays, but it has since been deleted.
Blizzards are so frigid that they can be held upside-down without spilling. Employees routinely show this to clients. It is business policy to flip one Blizzard per order upside-down. It’s up to the franchise owner’s choice whether or not the customer receives a free Blizzard coupon.
Before 1985, Dairy Queen had “thick” milkshakes called “Blizzards” in the 1960s. The original Blizzard milkshakes were so thick and creamy that the attendant would turn them upside down to show off. In 1962, they fetched a premium of 50 cents. These were available in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors, with or without malt. Samuel Temperato also created the Blizzard.
Dairy Queen also sells Blizzard Cakes in flavors like Oreo and Reese’s. Like the restaurant’s regular ice cream cake, this version is for special occasions.
DQ introduced frozen yogurt as a low-calorie option to soft serve ice cream in 1990. It was called Breeze. According to a corporate rep, ordinary soft serve has 35 calories per ounce, while frozen yogurt has 25. However, due to low demand, the firm discontinued frozen yogurt in all stores in 2001.
In 2011, International Dairy Queen Inc. sought a preliminary injunction to stop Yogubliz Inc. from selling “Blizzberry” and “Blizz Frozen Yogurt”, claiming the names could confuse consumers as they resembled Dairy Queen’s Blizzard. Dairy Queen’s request was refused by Judge Gary Klausner.
“It’s a terrific delight!” said the restaurant chain from 1979 to 1981. “We treat you right” was the franchise’s old tagline. In the Dairy Queen jingle, the slogans “Hot Eats, Cool Treats” and “Think DQ” were used from the early to mid-1990s. “Meet Me at DQ” became “DQ: Something Different”. Another early 2011 tagline was “So Good It’s RiDQulous”, with the word “ridiculous” in the current Dairy Queen design. Their old motto was “Fan Food, Not Fast Food.” In 2019, DQ’s motto is “Happy Tastes Good”. The motto is still on the cups, wrappers, and paper baskets.
In Texas, advertising usually ends with a Texas flag waving and the new DQ logo and phrase “Eat Like A Texan”. “That’s what I appreciate about Texas”, “Nobody beats DQ Treats & Eats”, “DQ is Value Country”, and “This is DQ Country”. Dairy Queen was the principal sponsor of Texas Country Reporter presenter Bob Phillips’ show.
DQ dropped Dennis the Menace in December 2002 because they felt children could no longer relate to him. Until the promotion of the Dairy Queen logo, from 2006 to July 2011, huge mouths with tongues licking large lips were advertised. The mouth was removed in 2011 after Grey New York created bizarre commercials for Dairy Queen showing a stylish man with a mustache, played by John Behlmann. His outlandish actions included blowing bubbles with kittens, water skiing while boxing, and breaking a pinata, which released Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Later, the same firm created advertisements with names like “Gary DQlones Himself”, “Now That’s A Lunchtime DQuandary!”, “After The DQonquest!” and “Well, This Is A Bit DQrazy!”. An Englishman narrated them all.
Wm. K. Walthers, a Milwaukee-based model railroad business, released two Walthers Cornerstone HO 1:87 Scale models of a Dairy Queen in 2015. Both models are licensed replicas.
Ottawa’s original retro-style neon sign with a cone
A soft-serve cone topped the original Dairy Queen emblem. The well-known red ellipse pattern emerged in the late 1950s. Initial shape asymmetrical, with one side point extending further than the other, especially when paired with the Brazier sign, a comparable sized yellow oval diagonally below. By the 1970s, both sides became symmetrical (see online images for comparison). Some new 1950s signs still had a soft-serve cone on the right side.
It first appeared in Pennsylvania in 1961. Her Dutch bonnet resembled the ellipse emblem, and she wore a pinafore apron and wooden shoes. Late 1960s yellow trapezoid Brazier sign below red Dairy Queen logo. It complemented the era’s new store roofline.
A large blue sign with white and red pinstripes trailing out from beneath the full Dairy Queen name, underneath the cone, was a modernized take on the soft-serve cone design of the early 1950s, with white and red pinstripes trailing out from beneath the full Dairy Queen name, underneath the cone. Drivers could see more cone signs at the store’s entrance and exit. Used mostly on new stores, but also on remodels.
After decades of being used interchangeably with Dairy Queen, “DQ” became the company’s official moniker in 2001. The font was the same as the original 60 years ago. During this time, the company placed the registered mark emblem to the right of the logo. When the company updated its signage and logos in early 2007, it changed the typeface, emphasized the letters, and added arced lines, one for hot items and one for ice cream. The registered mark emblem was positioned next to the letter “Q” in the new design. The company stated the new emblem will represent brand expansion and convey the “fun and happiness” associated with its products. Observers in the advertising business said the new logo was unnecessary and obtrusive.
The original signage is still used in older or “retro” themed properties. For example, the Dairy Queen sign in Ottawa, Ontario, was damaged and replaced in 2013.
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