Home Burgers and Beer The History of Dairy Queen

The History of Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen, often abbreviated as DQ, stands as an iconic name in the realm of frozen treats and fast food. Founded in 1940, this renowned chain has carved its place as a go-to destination for delicious soft-serve ice cream, delectable desserts, and savory fast-food options. What sets Dairy Queen apart is its signature creation: the creamy, curl-topped soft-serve ice cream, a staple of summer joy for countless individuals worldwide. The company is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which also owns Orange Julius and Karmelkorn. Their corporate office is located in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, Minnesota.

The Birth of Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen food

The first ever DQ restaurant opened on June 22, 1940, in Joliet, Illinois. It was operated by Sherb Noble. The restaurant served different frozen products, such as the famous soft-serve ice cream. At present, Dairy Queen has more than six thousand stores in 27 countries. Aside from the varieties of ice cream they have, they are now serving other foods such as burgers, chicken strips, breakfast meals, salads, and more.

Dairy Queen is a well-known restaurant in many countries around the world, and a lot of people love the soft-serve ice creams it offers. But have you ever wondered how it began? If you want to know how this fast-food restaurant chain started and how it became successful, read on to learn more about the history of Dairy Queen.

The Story of Sweet Success

The Dairy Queen’s success began in 1938, near Moline, Illinois, when John Fremont “Grandpa” McCullough and his son, Alex, developed a delicious dairy product that is now known as the Dairy Queen soft serve.

After the development of the dairy product, they convinced Sherb Noble, who is their friend and loyal customer, to offer their product in his ice cream store located in Kankakee, Illinois. When Noble tried to sell it, he dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert in just two hours on the first day of sales.

After testing their new product, the McCulloughs knew that they had an exciting business opportunity. They just need to find an efficient way to dispense the soft-serve ice cream. Soon after that, they located a freezer, which was invented by Harry Oltz of Hammond, Indiana. The freezer could produce a continuous flow of the ice cream.

J.F. McCullough had always referred to the cow as “the queen of the dairy business,” and that was where the Dairy Queen name originated. In 1940, Noble and the McCulloughs decided to open the first Dairy Queen store in Joliet, Illinois. This building still stands at 501 N Chicago St. as a city-designated landmark in the present time, but it no longer operates.

Development of the “Brazier” concept

With the introduction of the revolutionary “Brazier” concept in the late 1950s, Dairy Queen experienced a fundamental change that completely redesigned its service model. In contrast to the traditional ice cream-focused stands of the era, Dairy Queen’s creative strategy helped it move beyond its foundation in frozen desserts.

The Brazier concept represented a bold leap by incorporating a diverse array of hot food offerings alongside its beloved ice cream treats. This expansion included sizzling burgers, crisp fries, and a variety of savory options, transforming Dairy Queen locations into culinary havens catering to both sweet and hearty appetites. This strategic move not only broadened the menu but also signaled Dairy Queen’s intent to become a full-service fast-food destination, ushering in a new era in the company’s history.

Growth and Expansion Era

Since the first Dairy Queen store opened in 1940, the chain has used a franchise system for it to expand its operations globally. Back in those times, food franchising was all but unheard of, but Dairy Queen’s product’s potential made it natural for such a system. Dairy Queen was a pioneer of food franchising, and it expanded its ten stores in 1941 to 100 by 1947, 1,446 in 1950, and 2,600 in 1955.

During the 1950s and the 1960s, Dairy Queens were a fixture of social life in small towns of the Midwestern and Southern United States. In fact, they have often come to be referenced as a symbol of life in small-town America, such as in Larry McMurtry’s book, “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections on Sixty and Beyond,” and in Bob Greene’s, “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”

In 1953, the first DQ store in Canada opened in Climax, Saskatchewan. In 1958, the red Dairy Queen Symbol was introduced, and in 1962, the company name turned into International Dairy Queen, Inc. The McCulloughs’ innovation was the beginning of today’s system of more than six thousand Dairy Queen stores in the United States, Canada, and many other countries in Europe, Central America, Asia, and the Middle East.

From 1949, they began creating other varieties of soft serves such as malts, milkshakes, banana splits, dilly bars, and more. In 1995, they started selling other products aside from ice creams, such as the DQ Treatzza Pizza and Crispy Chicken Salad. In 2001, the first DQ Grill and Chill restaurant opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 2005, they introduced Grill Burgers on national TV. Today, they are offering a lot of food choices that the whole family will enjoy.

Dairy Queen in the 2010s

As consumer preferences shifted towards healthier options and more diverse menus, Dairy Queen responded by introducing new products and revamping its stores to enhance customer experience. In 2010, the DQ Bakes! menu rolled out, offering hot desserts, sandwiches, and snack melts, diversifying the traditional ice cream-centric menu to appeal to a broader audience.

The 2010s also saw Dairy Queen’s international footprint grow significantly. Notably, in 2012, the company opened its 500th store in China, underscoring the brand’s global appeal and the international market’s role in its growth strategy. The expansion continued with the opening of new locations in the Middle East and the introduction of the DQ Grill & Chill concept, which provided a more extensive menu and a comfortable dining environment aimed at attracting families and diners looking for a casual eating spot.

Another significant event was the celebration of Dairy Queen’s 75th anniversary in 2015. This milestone was marked by the introduction of a new design for their stores, featuring a modern look that included updated dining areas and exteriors. The anniversary celebrations helped rekindle consumer affection for the brand, reminding customers of Dairy Queen’s long history and its place in American culture.

Challenges and Successes

Like any significant brand, Dairy Queen has faced tough competition from the fast-food and dessert industries. It had to contend with rivals launching comparable goods and alluring promos. Strategic innovation and ongoing product evolution were necessary to stay ahead of the competition and adjust to shifting consumer preferences.

Furthermore, a brand that has historically been linked to decadent treats faced difficulties as a result of the recent health-conscious trend. Dairy Queen had to find a way to balance the appeal of its traditional menu items with the growing demand for healthier options.

Successful marketing and brand revamp:

Dairy Queen’s success can be attributed to its effective marketing strategies and timely brand revamps. The business made an investment in iconic marketing campaigns that emphasized not just the Blizzard, one of its signature products, but also the nostalgia and experience of visiting a Dairy Queen store.

Furthermore, the brand underwent successful redesigns that updated its look while adhering to its heritage. Bringing back beloved products, collaborating with others, and introducing one-time deals all helped to draw in new audiences and keep existing ones interested.

Global recognition and steady growth:

Dairy Queen managed to achieve remarkable global recognition and growth in spite of obstacles. The brand was able to enter new markets by increasing its global presence and customizing its marketing and menu to cater to a wide range of cultural preferences.

Dairy Queen’s sustained success can be attributed to its ability to connect with consumers in a variety of geographic areas. The brand has experienced significant growth due to its adaptability and willingness to embrace global diversity, whether through the introduction of regionalized flavors or participation in international festivals.

All things considered, Dairy Queen has been able to hold onto its status as a well-liked and recognizable name in the dessert and fast-food industries thanks to its ability to overcome obstacles, innovate its products, and effectively market its brand.

There have indeed been a lot of changes in the Dairy Queen system throughout the years. However, there is one constant that has remained, and it is that Dairy Queen stores are still, and always have been, a place where you can find Little League teams celebrating a victory, business people having their lunch breaks, and families bonding while enjoying great foods and delicious soft serve treats.

Interesting Facts About Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen, a staple in the world of fast food and frozen treats, is known for its delightful soft serve and signature Blizzards. However, beneath its well-known menu and iconic logo lies a treasure trove of interesting facts that many fans might not be aware of. Here are ten lesser-known facts about Dairy Queen.

  1. The First Store Wasn’t Planned: The first Dairy Queen store opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, was actually a test location to prove the viability of soft serve as a marketable product. The test was, needless to say, a resounding success.
  2. A Unique Soft Serve Recipe: The soft serve formula Dairy Queen uses is a closely guarded secret, containing a specific combination of ingredients that give it that unique texture and taste.
  3. The Invention of the Blizzard: The Blizzard, introduced in 1985, was so popular that Dairy Queen sold more than 175 million of them in just its first year.
  4. Upside Down or It’s Free: Starting in 2016, Dairy Queen launched a policy where if your Blizzard isn’t served to you upside down, it’s free.
  5. World’s Largest Dairy Queen: The largest Dairy Queen in the world is located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, spanning two stories and over 7,500 square feet.
  6. First Fast Food Chain to Eliminate Ozone-Depleting Substances: In the early ’90s, Dairy Queen became the first fast-food chain to eliminate ozone-depleting substances in its U.S. locations.
  7. A Royal Wedding Cake: In 1981, Dairy Queen created a frozen wedding cake to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, which was displayed in one of their stores.
  8. DQ in the Air: In 1985, Dairy Queen became the first fast-food chain to introduce a non-dairy frozen treat, making it possible to enjoy DQ even at 30,000 feet on certain airlines.
  9. Seasonal Blizzard Flavors: Dairy Queen introduces new Blizzard flavors each season, with some unique offerings like Pumpkin Pie for fall or Cotton Candy for summer.
  10. Texas Has Its Own DQ Menu: Dairy Queen restaurants in Texas have a unique menu, dubbed the “Texas Country Foods” menu, featuring items not available in other states, including the “Hungr-Buster” burger and the “Taco Salad Basket.”


It is amazing to know that a simple creation made by a father and his son can turn into a big business opportunity. Dairy Queen shows that a combination of hardworking people and great-tasting food can make a company successful. Dairy Queen’s history is a story of a unique product that created an industry.

Exit mobile version