MINCO — Operated by the same family for the past 31 years, the Minco Dairy Boy Drive-In still offers soft-serve cones in three sizes — small, medium and giant.
The walk-up burger and ice cream stand on Minco’s main drag is one of the last remnants of the Dairy Boy Drive-In chain that once had restaurants in small towns across Oklahoma.
Wearing lipstick and baseball hats decorated in sequins and rhinestones, the Dairy Boy workers — there are no men or boys here, only women — serve up 2-foot-tall “giant” cones of soft-serve ice cream.
“You’d be surprised who orders one,” said Dairy Boy employee Rachel Weaver, the 18-year-old granddaughter of restaurant owner Karen Bratcher. “I had a little boy — he looked about 10 or 11 — order one, stand right out there and eat it and then come back and order another.”
Bratcher is unsure if the Minco Dairy Boy, which she and husband Bobby Bratcher purchased in 1983, was part of the original Dairy Boy chain. Newspaper advertisements from the chain dating back to 1958 show Roy and Dee Ann’s Dairy Boy in Minco as one of several Oklahoma locations.
There is also a surviving Dairy Boy restaurant in Okemah. Another Dairy Boy Drive-In in Lexington closed its doors last year.
A family affair
The restaurants all feature the mascot of a little boy in overalls carrying an oversized soft-serve ice cream cone.
The Minco Dairy Boy sits just off Main Street near the center of town on the route of the old Beale Wagon Road, a popular wagon route for settlers in the 1860s and and 1870s. The old U.S. Route 66 later followed much of the same route.
Bobbie Sue Tallent was just three months old when her parents bought the Minco Dairy Boy and spent much of her childhood behind the counter.
“I started as young as I can remember, opening boxes of napkins and straws,” Tallent said.
Tallent learned math by counting the money from the till and went into labor with her first child in the Dairy Boy kitchen. This summer, her daughter, now 8, also helped out at the restaurant for a few hours.
The Dairy Boy Drive-In chain was founded in 1957 in Oklahoma city by businessman Harry Atlee and Leonard Hansen, owners of the Hansen-Atlee Dairy near SW 18 and Pennsylvania. No visible remnants of the dairy remain in the neighborhood today, which is a mix of warehouses and modest bungalow housing.
The Hansen-Atlee Dairy once offered home milk delivery in the Oklahoma City metro area, promising in newspaper advertisements of the time that its milk was more pure and richer than that of its competitors.
The dairy began selling franchise rights for Dairy Boy restaurants in small towns across the state in the late 1950s.
“Now you can own a profitable Dairy Boy Drive-In,” a newspaper advertisement promised. “The soft ice cream business is booming.”
Restaurant in a boxcar
Oklahoma Sonic Drive-in franchisee Marvin Jirous was one of the first Dairy Boy franchisees in the state. He and his wife, Barbara, opened a Dairy Boy on Main Street in Fairview in 1958.
The business was in a 10-foot by 25-foot prefabricated building with a walk-up order window that was built by a Wichita, Kan.-based company, Valentine Manufacturing Inc. Valentine made railroad car-shaped buildings used for roadside diners that were once a common site along the old U.S. Route 66.
“It was a great business for us — we sold a lot of nickel ice cream cones,” Jirous said. “Dairy Boy was about the only ice cream shop around the state at that time. There was Dairy Queen, but they would only go into the bigger towns at the time.”
Dairy Boy franchises proliferated throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s. By June 1958, Dairy Boy had six restaurants in Oklahoma City, as well as Midwest City, Clinton, Davenport, Del City, Fairview, Minco, Okarche and Weatherford, according to a newspaper advertisement.
By the time the couple sold the Fairview restaurant in 1962, there were 165 Dairy Boys in the state, Jirous recalled.
Hansen-Atlee began marketing Dairy Boy franchises as a way to sell its ice cream mix, which came in 10-gallon drums packed in dry ice, Jirous said. The drums were delivered via Mistletoe Express, the truck line once operated by The Oklahoma Publishing Company, the parent company of The Oklahoman.
The Bratchers bought the Minco Dairy Boy from Roy Burnett in 1983. Bobby Bratcher had worked in the oil fields, but during the oil bust of the early 1980s the couple saw the restaurant as a stable business that could help them raise a family.
The Bratchers would trade off watching the children and working morning and afternoon shifts at the Dairy Boy.
“We needed something to pay the bills, and this is what we did,” Karen Bratcher said.
At the time, the business was in a 300-square-foot building with no heat or air conditioning.
“Your fingers would turn purple in the winter,” Tallent said.
In 2002, the Bratchers had the old building torn down and built a new, larger kitchen, but still keeping the walk-up or drive-thru format.
One of the only remnants of the old building is a picture of a hen with a mob of unruly chicks captioned “Some days, I could wring their necks.”
“We live it and breathe it 24/7,” Karen Bratcher said. “If we mess up an order, we take it personally, because this is our family.”
This story is part of a series on Oklahoma’s forgotten retail chains.