The 75-year success story of Dairy Queen is mirrored in the franchise’s long history right here in Creston. This month, Ralph and Mary Vigna and family celebrate a quarter-century of operating a Creston landmark that opened, coincidentally, a half-century ago.
“The time has just flown by,” Ralph says, with Mary nodding in agreement. “When we came to Creston, Michael was nine years old and now he is running the operation.”
The Dairy Queen “system’s” recipe for success is a simple one, according to the website of International Dairy Queen, Inc.: “It’s been a combination of hard-working people who own and operate restaurants and great-tasting food and tempting treats served in our establishments.
“The founders of the Dairy Queen system were men and women who introduced a new kind of dessert treat and, in the process, developed the foundation of the franchising industry. The history of the Dairy Queen system is a story of a unique product that created an industry.”
That unique product, over the years, has been associated with family outings for generations.
“Our phenomenal story began with a 10 cent sale of a then unnamed product on August 4, 1938, in Kankakee, Illinois,” says the website. “A father and son in the mix plant business in Green River, Illinois, had been experimenting with a soft frozen dairy product for some time. They contacted Sherb Noble, a good friend and customer, who agreed to run the ‘all you can eat’ trial sale at his walk-in ice cream store. Within two hours, he dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert.”
Soft serve ice cream was born, and it’s still a popular order at the drive-thru window or the counter inside, especially in the warmer weather.
The Creston Valley got its first lick at Dairy Queen products in 1964. The grand opening of a franchise operated by Oliver Salvador was greeted with the headline “Dairy Queen Latest Valley Asset.”
“The new fireproof, pink-tinted block building of 27×42 feet and located opposite the curling rink on Canyon Street is the latest in modern layout and appointments,” the Creston Review story read. “Seating accommodation includes the coffee counter and individual chairs with table arms, installed at the front of the large windows.
“The latest in display show cases has been installed which will contain Hard-Pak Dairy Queen items. The moveable plastic top makes this unit a self-serve unit.
“All cooking and ice cream units are of stainless steel and installed so as to give maximum efficiency to staff and service to the customers.”
Further on, the story offers a quick glimpse of what set Dairy Queen apart from its competitors.
“Ice cream on a new $6,000 machine is manufactured in the space of three minutes, ready to serve customers.
“The new Sizzle Kitchen will prepare a menu of fast ordered foodstuffs which will be served piping hot.”
In December 1941, the United States entered the Second World War. There were fewer than 10 Dairy Queen stores. When the war ended, the franchise — an almost unheard of system back then — exploded, growing to 100 stores by 1947. Huge growth is indicated by the fact that there were 1,446 stores by 1950 and 2,600 in 1955. Today, there are more than 6,000 Dairy Queen restaurants in the U.S., Canada and 20 other countries, making DQ one of the world’s largest fast food chains.
“Although much has changed in the world and in the Dairy Queen system through the years, one constant has remained,” the website says. “Dairy Queen stores are still, and always have been, the place to find Little League teams celebrating a victory, business people on their lunch break and families taking time out to enjoy great food and soft serve treats.”
When the Vigna family took over the Creston Dairy Queen from Louie Wishloff and his family, Ralph and Mary quickly established a reputation as good and fair employers. Working at the grill or counter was a job that provided many a high school student with funds to buy their first car or go off to pursue post-secondary education.
Businesses with a long history in a community don’t remain static, and the couple still looks fondly back to 2001, when the drive-thru window was opened. It was no small feat, with DQ closely neighboring a building that was home to the town’s much-used laundromat.
“We had no choice but to purchase that building in order to create the space to make the drive-thru work,” Ralph says. “But the laundromat was needed and we didn’t want to inconvenience its customers, so we kept it in operation.”
As much as any change, it was the drive-thru that allowed Dairy Queen to remain competitive — customers demanded the convenience and the response was positive.
An interior redesign in 2006 allowed for the introduction of the popular Grill and Chill concept.
While Ralph and Mary have stepped back to spend more time with their grandchildren the family ties carry on. Michael now manages the store and it remains as vital to Creston Valley residents and tourists as ever.
Four days of celebration are planned to celebrate the 25/50/75 landmarks. From Friday through Monday, specials will be offered and raffles will be held. On Monday, customers get free soft serve cones.
Raffle prizes include a 42-inch Samsung TV, a Norco Scorpion bike, three 10-punch Creston and District Community Complex aquatic centre passes and Dairy Queen gift cards.
Drop by to say happy anniversary and to maintain a tradition that has served the Creston Valley well for 50 years.