Dairy Queen is returning to the Oklahoma City metro after a decadelong absence, with the first store set to open in Moore by mid-2014.
The operator, David Jones, already owns Schlotzky's restaurants in Midwest City and Moore, and is in negotiations with Fritts Family Farms to build his first Dairy Queen at SW 19 and Telephone Road.
Jones said the $1.9 million restaurant will be a modern “Grill and Chill,” which features a full menu offering of burgers, chicken strips, salads and hot dogs, with Dairy Queen frozen desserts, and an Orange Julius.
“I grew up with Dairy Queen and Orange Julius,” Jones said. “I worked in an Orange Julius at Sooner Fashion Mall as a kid. We all went to the Dairy Queen in Moore. It was part of the fabric of our little society. When you said Dairy Queen, it was synonymous with apple pie, baseball and Americana.”
Central Oklahoma was once a bastion for the ice cream shops, with Dunn's Dairy Queen having started up the 17th franchise in the country in 1947 and growing the operation to 31 stores in the region.
The operation was considered one the chain's most successful franchises in the country when the central Oklahoma stores were sold to Houston investors in 1988.
That deal quickly soured over licensing fees and buyout conditions, and the operation went into bankruptcy.
The stores vanished from the Oklahoma City area by the mid-1990s, though the old buildings can still be spotted along May Avenue across from State Fair Park and along Lincoln Boulevard just north of the state Capitol.
A Texas couple attempted to revive the brand with stores in 1999, but they also disappeared within a couple years.
Jones' family lives in Moore and is involved with their current restaurants on a daily basis. They took shelter when tornadoes battered Moore in May, and see the opening of a Dairy Queen as a way to give the community a boost.
Jones said he couldn't account for failures of the previous operators, but noted the brand has been completely overhauled under the ownership of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and that the involvement of local operators is critical to success.
“It's a tough business,” Jones said. “You have to be involved in the business and you have to be closely tied to your guests.”
Fritts Family Farm dates to 1950. The family turned down repeated requests to develop the property in the 1970s, with offers ranging from an air park to a golf course.
Fritts' grandson, Jason, now oversees the operation and said the family began to entertain commercial development in the early 2000s with the first stores being a Lowe's Improvement Center and a Home Depot.
“We didn't really realize what would happen with that,” Fritts said. “Then we got a Starbucks, a Chilis and a Chick-fil-A. We're interested in creating a cool place.” Dairy Queen, Fritts said, fits that approach.
Jim Kerr, vice president of franchising for Dairy Queen, said the company is adding about 70 restaurants a year.
“I can't tell you how surprised I am at how much pent-up demand there is for Dairy Queen,” Kerr said. “Every time we've opened up, it's been an amazing story. I've gone to openings with 40 to 50 cars lined up in the driveway.”
At a glance
Key dates in Dairy Queen history