Dairy Queen, a small town favorite, is growing in big cities in Texas


Margie McFarland visits the Dairy Queen at Bandera Road in Leon Valley once or twice a week.

It’s not just a place to grab some tacos, a burger, or a vanilla cone before your doctor’s visits and other afternoon appointments. It’s also a social outing, said McFarland, who lives alone with her dog.

“I like to dine there,” said McFarland, 80. “I am from the old school.”

And on trips to West Texas, stopping in small towns like Sonora, the chain is its old reliable.

“I still depend on Dairy Queen,” she said.

Dairy Queen is not headquartered in Texas – the chain’s parent company is based in Minnesota – but there are more locations here than in any other state, and it’s been a touchstone for Texans for decades. generations.

A sign of the important role Texas plays in the Dairy Queen business: the food menu here is different from other states, tailored to the tastes of Texans. You can’t get the Hungr-Buster Burger or The Dude Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich anywhere else.

And in small towns in Texas, restaurants are a must stop for politicians in the countryside.

According to the company’s tally, 63 of its locations are in the San Antonio area.

But Dairy Queens are the largest in rural Texas. These are the gathering places after church or the high school football game.

When franchisee Vasari LLC filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and closed more than two dozen branches in Texas, the Houston Chronicle and the Texas Monthly reported on the effects on small communities left behind. Not only did the closures take away a dining option and an employer, they took away part of the identity of cities.

Yet, as Texas’ demographics change – with more and more people moving from rural communities to the state’s larger metropolitan areas – Dairy Queen is following suit, expanding its presence in major cities.

Although the head of the Texas Dairy Queen Operators’ Council – a nonprofit organization made up of state franchisees – has said new locations are still opening in rural areas, the chain’s expansion is mostly focused in major cities such as Dallas, Houston and Austin.

Seven locations are slated to open in the state this year.

Dairy Queen “has become a small town brand,” said board CEO Lou Romanus, who sat down for an interview at the board convention in San Antonio earlier this month.

“The city came when there was a Dairy Queen,” he said. “The Dairy Queen brand has not grown in high population areas and large cities. Now we’re at this place where we’re rolling into population bases where we just haven’t historically had the great growth. “

The chain fared well during the coronavirus pandemic, as franchisees already had drive-thru and customers searched for Blizzards and Hungr-Busters as they crouched at home, he said. he declares. Sales increased slightly but he declined to say how much.

“We realized pretty quickly that all of your income was going to go through that window,” Romanus said. “It was the only way for people to access the outside world for a very long time.”

Executives at Dairy Queen have tried to keep the chain’s marketing optimistic during the pandemic. They recalled the good memories attached to the brand.

“We didn’t want to remind people of the complexities in their lives,” Romanus said. “In the face of the fear, in the face of the anxiety, we wanted to say, ‘Look, I know it’s hard right now, but you remember when? It’s still there. Walk down the street and get a Blizzard. Walk down the street and bring back this memory of normality.

The job market has tightened during the pandemic and the biggest challenge for franchisees is finding and keeping employees. Some are raising wages and offering bonuses, but they are competing with other companies who are doing the same, Romanus said.

Another problem is supply chain shortages. Equipment deliveries that typically took 30 to 60 days are now expected to arrive in six months, he said. And Styrofoam cups, lids, and straws are hard to come by. Costs in general are also on the rise.

“If the labor is going to cost you more and your products are going to cost you more, we have to sell more of it, we have to compensate in quantity,” he said.

Alex McGraw, 52, another regular customer of the Bandera Road store, has been eating at Dairy Queen for as long as he can remember.

He loves burgers, hot dogs, tacos, steaks, and blizzards, and comes at least once a week. When he goes to the state’s Gulf Coast, he always stops at Dairy Queen.

“It’s always good,” he said.

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