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Moorhead Dairy Queen puts its own twist on 60 years

MOORHEAD - Customers burrowed deeper into their winter coats this week as they lined up for lunch specials and sundaes outside the Moorhead Dairy Queen during opening week.

Despite frigid temperatures, Loren Schuck of Moorhead perched on an outdoor picnic table sipping a soda.

Deb Seter of Moorhead, Carol Wadeson of rural Leonard, N.D., and Rammie Olson of Dilworth were among several groups that ate lunch in their cars outside the seasonal restaurant that does not offer indoor seating.

"Only here would we stand outside in below-zero temps to get ice cream," Olson said.

"It's just the best Dairy Queen," Seter added.

The eatery on Eighth Street and Main Avenue is celebrating its 60th year in business this year. It opened for the season on March 1 as usual.

Moorhead's Dairy Queen is one of the oldest restaurants in the franchise. Its contract - dating back to 1949 - allows the business more freedom than most other Dairy Queens.

Being able to offer items not found on a typical DQ menu, custom-made cakes and free sundaes the last two hours of business on Tax Day, April 15, make the eatery an institution, said Troy DeLeon. He has owned the restaurant with his wife, Diane, for 14 years.

"It's pretty amazing. Wherever we go, if someone has been to Moorhead, they know about this store," Troy DeLeon said. "It seems everybody we talk to has a story about this place."

When the DeLeons bought the business, they didn't make a big deal about it, choosing instead to keep up the old traditions and change as little as possible.

"I credit a lot of this business to the previous owners," Diane DeLeon said. "We really had a good base to build on."

Before they bought the business, the DeLeons worked there as employees so they could see what was involved. Former owner Robert Litherland also worked with the DeLeons for a few months after they bought the business to ensure a smooth transition.

The DeLeons received their franchise transfer papers June 14, 1995 - 46 years to the date that Robert and Phyllis Litherland signed their contract. Diane DeLeon is emotional when she thinks about the coincidence.

"I believe things happen for a reason," she said. "From the start, everything felt like it was clicking."

The DeLeons have updated the equipment and signage, and installed siding. Other than that, not much has changed.

"This place is a real sense of community," Diane DeLeon said. "People don't just come here for the great treats. They come here for the social experience."

Phyllis Litherland is glad the DeLeons have continued traditions she and her husband started. She also said "it's really neat" that the business is a community landmark.

Litherland has her own tradition of attending every opening day - usually for a chocolate milkshake.

"I was there for every opening day for 46 years, so I guess I just wanted to keep being here for the first day," she said.

The DeLeons set their own pricing and always have something on sale to encourage customers to try different things.

Everything is made in the store, except the specialty Dilly Bars. Even the ice cream cakes are handmade.

"I want the cakes to be special and different," said Troy DeLeon, who decorates his cakes with frosting instead of the edible gel found on most DQ cakes.

Individual cakes are popular wedding cakes because DeLeon can personalize them and at $1.50 apiece, they are cheaper than most wedding cakes.

Diane Luhman of Moorhead buys a cake from the Moorhead DQ a day or two before it opens every year for a Feb. 28 birthday.

"We love the cakes," she said. "We just have to get an ice cream cake," Luhman said.

The eatery is open through Oct. 31.

Moorhead Dairy Queen fast facts

It goes through more than 15,000 gallons of ice cream mix in eight months, which is more than most stores go through in 12 months.

- It makes, decorates, and sells more than 2,000 ice cream cakes in eight months.

- It can go through 40 pounds of barbecue in a day.

- It has given away 1,800 chocolate sundaes in two hours on Tax Day.

- It made 800 Dilly Bars and 500 Buster Bars to prepare for this year's March 1 opening.

Source: Diane DeLeon

Business profile

Dairy Queen

Location: 24 8th St. S., Moorhead

Founded: 1949

Ownership: Diane and Troy DeLeon

Hours: 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Contact: (218) 233-3221