A fresh yet historic dairy treat

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June 3, 2014
By: Linda Koutsky
Visit just before twilight for the best lighting effects.
Photo by Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Dairy Queen
1720 Lexington Ave. N., Roseville

Architecture is often the lure to entice a crowd to a new restaurant. So why shouldn’t that be the case for ice cream, too? The next hot night head over to Lexington and Larpenteur to bask in vintage glowing neon and enjoy the best Banana Split Blizzard you’ve ever had.

Dairy Queen’s history goes way back to 1938 when a father and son believed ice cream tasted better when it wasn’t frozen solid. They began selling an early version of soft serve in Green River, Illinois but it took a couple years to invent a freezer that would keep the ice cream cold enough to store, yet not frozen into a block. Once they figured out a system similar to frozen custard machines, a company was launched. The first Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Illinois in summer of 1940 and the franchise was off and running. Within seven years there were 100 ice cream stands.

The architecture of early Dairy Queens up until the 1960s were rather utilitarian: white, flat-roofed structures with two walk-up windows. In the 1960s a red-roofed gabled barn shaped building became popular, then a more angular barn shape. But early franchise owners were allowed creative freedom too. The one on Lexington was built in 1947 and is more of a Mid-Century Modern architecturally inspired design. Architecture and product design of the 1940s–60s used large expanses of glass; bold, geometric shapes; flat planes; and unadorned design. There was also a flow between the indoors and outdoors. This is show-stopping architecture! It makes you want to jump out of your car. Not many buildings make you want to do that anymore. The anonymous designer of this ice cream stand wanted to get your attention and it still works today — 67 years later.

Minnesotans love their Dairy Queens and there doesn’t seem to be a town without one. The one on Lexington is tied with another in Rochester (538 N. Broadway) for being the oldest in the state. The firm’s headquarters moved here in 1962 so we can officially claim Dairy Queen as a Minnesota company. And it’s branding is due to another leader in the state. Minneapolis firm Campbell-Mithun is credited with pulling the franchise together into a nationally recognized brand through identity, atmosphere, and a cohesive advertising strategy.

So your only tough decision now is do you stick with a classic — malt, shake, banana split? Or go contemporary — Choco Cherry Love Blizzard, Mango Pineapple fruit smoothie?

Historic moments in Dairy Queen

1940: First Dairy Queen opens in Joliet, Illinois

1947: 100 stores open

1955: Dilly Bar debuts

1950: 1,400 stores open

1960: 3,000 stores open

1960: Mr. Misty introduced

1962: Dairy Queen headquarters move to Minnesota

1970: 4,000 stores open

1985: Blizzard storms in — 175 million sold first year!

2014: more than 6,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, and 20 countries

ICE CREAM BREAK: My favorite off-the-menu treat is a Rootbeer Freeze — like a mixed-up Rootbeer float. It was popular in the 1970s and available today by special order.

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