In a sea of fast food restaurants that focus on bringing you hot food, mostly hamburgers, Dairy Queen has stood as the cold option that also happens to sell… Hamburgers. Most of their menu is filled with iconic frozen treats like dilly bars, mister misty’s, dipped cones and blizzards and it’s been that way since the first Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Illinois in 1940. So while they’ve attempted to diversify their offerings with hot eats to offset their cool treats in recent years, their ice cream is still what bring people to their 6,400 locations in North America alone. Despite their near omnipresence there’s not a ton that is known about Dairy Queen, at least when compared to other fast food restaurants like McDonald’s that have had movies made about their founding. So, let’s delve into the world of ice cream headaches and only working about (the warm) half of the year as we break down the Top Ten things you might not know about Dairy Queen.
10. The Most Locations Per Capita Happen to be in Minnesota
If there’s one state that you’d think wouldn’t need that many Dairy Queens it’d have to be Minnesota, the state with the coldest temperatures (for a major city in Minneapolis), especially as ice cream and ice hockey don’t really go hand and hand together. However, it’s Minnesota that has the most Dairy Queen restaurants per person and that may be due to the fact that Dairy Queen’s international headquarters are located there or because Scandanavians love their ice cream, either way if you’re going to visit Minnesota and are looking forward to getting your favorite kind of blizzard or dilly bar keep in mind that because of the frigid temperatures that exist there that their Dairy Queens are only open during the late spring to Summer months. So, even with the ever increasing amount of warm products that Dairy Queen has added to it’s menu in recent years you’re really only able to get any Dairy Queen product in Minneapolis from late May to early October. Which means for the rest of the year people in the northern most state must be forced to eat their Reese Peanut Butter cups and Heath Bars without ice cream, oh, the horror!
9. Texas has the most Locations Total
While Minnesota may not seem like the top per capita place for a Dairy Queen what might not be a huge surprise is that Texas is the state that has the most restaurants total. With over 600 locations, Texas tops the list as the state with the most Dairy Queens and that makes a lot of sense as Texas is where red hot heat and palpable humidity meet and unlilke other large states like California people are all worked up about eating healthy and living into their 60’s. That’s not to say that California doesn’t have a lot of Dairy Queens as well, it’s just that the Lone Star State is number one, which makes even more sense when you think about all the barbecue and spice that they eat as well as nothing goes better with BBQ than a soft-serve cone or drink like a mister misty, as long as it’s not the healthier option like the failed “Breeze”. Speaking of which…
8. Their Healthier Option(s) Failed
In 2018 most fast food restaurants have introduced healthier options mostly out of necessity as people became increasingly aware of just how bad the food in fast food was for them. While you’d think that an ice cream restaurant wouldn’t have to worry about such things as people aren’t eating ice cream for every meal or really more than once or twice a week, the people at Dairy Queen decided to ride the health craze that enveloped the early aughts and introduced their first low calorie desert option. Dubbed the “Breeze”, was actually ahead of it’s time as it launched in 1990, which is probably why it didn’t succeed (or at least one of the reasons it didn’t). The Breeze was a low calories version of the iconic blizzard, made with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream and while it actually lasted for a full decade before the (frozen) brains at DQ International pulled the plug on it, it is looked back upon as an abject failure. People go to ice cream restaurants to eat, you guessed it, ice cream and so it might not surprise you to hear that so few people were ordering the Breeze that Dairy Queen locations often had to throw away the yogurt before they could sell it because it was past it’s expiration date. That’s surprising though as frozen yogurt can taste a lot like ice cream, but it’s probably just the mental aspect of eating yogurt instead of ice cream but then again if you’re mixing candy into frozen yogurt it probably defeats the purpose of it being healthy to begin with which is probably another reason why this didn’t work and when you have more than one fatal flaw to your product then it’s safe to say that someone was fired over the disaster that was the Breeze.
7. The Blizzard was only Introduced in 1985
If you were to poll 100 people on the street and ask them what the most iconic item on Dairy Queen’s menu is, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of them would choose the Blizzard. Made of of soft serve and crushed up name brand candy like Reese Pieces, Heath, M&M’s or Butterfinger, it’s probably the most delicious thing on any fast food menu anywhere. So, it may surprise you to hear that the Blizzard has only been on Dairy Queen’s menus since 1985, nearly a half century after the first store was opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. Like the first day of selling soft serve ice cream (in which they processed over 1,600 servings in the first two hours alone) the Blizzard was an immediate hit, with nearly 200 million being sold in the first year alone. Considering how iconic and intertwined the Blizzard is with Dairy Queens’ image it’s hard to imagine it took them that long to think up something so vital. I mean, what did they sell before? Dilly Bars? Ice cream WITHOUT candy in it? Talk about a Depression!
6. Dairy Queen also Owns Orange Julius, Both Are Owned by Warren Buffett
If you’ve been to one of the remaning malls in the world you’ll probably have come across a Dairy Queen/Orange Julius and while you may have thought that the two have teamed up to pay the ridiculous rent that malls at least used to be able to charge it actually turns out that Dairy Queen owns Orange Julius, which if you’re a Millienial is like the grandfather to Jamba Juice. Surprisingly Orange Julius actually predates the company that ended up purchasing it in 1987, with the first Orange Julius growing out of an Orange stand in Los Angeles California in 1926. The owner of Orange Julius was named Julius in the shocker of the century and got the name from the amount of people who’d come to his stand asking for the new concoction he came up with the help of his realtor that was easier on the stomach by making the orange less acidic. People soon were shouting “Give me an Orange, Julius!” and the name was born, only to be purchased by Dairy Queen in 1987 to combine their efforts and also offer something a bit healthier than a Blizzard and a bit more delicious than the Breeze. Now both are actually a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which is the company owned by famed Billionaire Warren Buffett, probably because he just likes ice cream and consistent quarter-to-quarter profits.
5. Why they Turn the Blizzard Upside Down
Outside of how delicious (and unhealthy and thus better than it’s red-headed step-child of a cousin the Breeze) the Blizzard is the other thing that probably comes to mind when you think of it is the fact that the employees turn it upside down before serving it to you. While there have been a lot of theories as to why they do that, with some people thinking that they’re hoping to make the candy settle, if that makes any sense, the reality is that it’s a branding tool. You see Dairy Queen really wants to hammer home how great their product is and by turning the Blizzard upside down they’re showing you how thick and delicious the ice cream is that comprises it and it’s something that they actually borrowed from the frozen custard industry, namely a restaurant in St. Louis named Ted Drewes, which serves it’s frozen custard with mix-in’s called concretes. So, while it’s about salesmanship and thus selling you something you already purchased, some locations take this very seriously and have run promotions where if an employee forgets to turn your Blizzard upside down you get to eat it for free! So the next time you’re waiting for your delicious Blizzard keep an eye on the employee making it, and while you might not get it for free you’ll at least know whether or not your product is up to snuff as if it falls on the floor it means the machine is broken or that you’re probably dreaming… Talk about a nightmare.
4. The Recipe for their Soft Serve is Top Secret
While some things in business are guarded for no reason (see the next entry on this list), there are other things that are obviously extremely important and thus are guarded with extreme care by those who know the exact recipe or code. While the most famous example of this is the secret to Coca-Cola, which is said to only be known by a handful of people at any given time, to the secret herbs and spices behind Kentucky Fried Chicken, it turns out that Dairy Queen also protects the recipe for it’s soft serve as if it were the recipe for the atom bomb in the 1940’s. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first Dairy Queen opened in 1940 and was founded by the same man who perfected the scientific process for creating soft serve and while they made sure to expand as quickly as possible to lessen the chances that another restaurant would steal their idea or do it better, it turns out that they also covered their bases by only letting a few people know the recipe behind soft serve. “[The formula] is kept in a safe deposit box and there are only a few keys to it,” chief branding officer Michael Keller told ABC News.
3. The Swirl is Trademarked
Outside of deliciousness and Blizzards the main thing that people may think of when they think of Dairy Queen is that iconic swirl that comes atop a lot of their frozen treats. It turns out like many things in business, that swirl is actually a trademark of Dairy Queen international. How do they trademark a swirl, you ask? Well it’s really how the swirl is discussed and shown in the media. Referred to internally as a “Q”, thanks to it’s similarities to the letter, there’s a reason why Dairy Queen is the only ice cream location that focuses on the swirl and that’s because they have the trademark to market it that way (it also doesn’t hurt that they really don’t have a ton of competition in terms of soft serve or the Q, but that’s not a coincidence and while you may laugh at the fact that they’ve trademarked something so random it clearly is working for them). So while you may not refer to as a Q, it’s about as iconic to Dairy Queen as the Golden Arches are to McDonald’s, and at least the Q has something to do with the food you’re getting where as the Golden Arches are just random (which the movie “The Founder” about the founding of McDonald’s doesn’t shy away from).
2. It’s from Illinois
Some people have to slave for years for their dream to become a reality and while it took two years from concept to actual restaurant the fellas behind Dairy Queen (and it’s first of a kind soft serve ice cream) knew within the first hour or two that they had a hit on their hands. However, it took two years for them to get everything set up for their first location which was located on 501 N Chicago Street in Joliet, Illinois and while that location no longer hosts a Dairy Queen the original building is still there. If that location hadn’t succeeded then we wouldn’t have the nearly 6,500 locations around the world and a decent amount of people probably wouldn’t have diabetes. As we’ve learned elsewhere on this list, Dairy Queen was one of the pioneers of the franchising system of restaurant ownership and they started franchising the same year that they launched, 1940, which goes to show you that they knew that they had a good thing and that they needed to get it in front of as many people as possible before someone else usurped their soft serve idea and established a foot-hold in the ice cream restaurant industry (we’re looking at you, Baskin Robbins).
1. They Basically Invented Soft Serve Ice Cream
These days you can get soft serve ice cream at basically every fast food joint, but back before World War II the only ice cream that you could get anywhere was the semi-hard kind that makes up most ice cream cones or store bought ice cream. As it turns out, John Fremont McCullogh, one of the founders of Dairy Queen, helped pioneer the science behind soft serve ice cream with his son Bradley back in 1938 (two years before the first Dairy Queen opened). After perfecting their recipe/system they partnered with a friend of theirs who just so happened to own an ice cream shop, Sherb Noble, and together they started selling what is now called soft serve on August, 4th 1938, a day that will live forever in the hearts of those who love ice cream headaches. It was an immediate hit, as they sold over 1,600 servings in the first two hours of their business alone! Talk about word of mouth! They clearly knew they had a hit on their hands and in two years opened their first location in Joliet, Illinois.