The first DQ restaurant was located in Joliet, Illinois. It was operated by Sherb Noble and opened for business on June 22, 1940. It serves a variety of frozen products, such as soft serve ice cream.
The soft-serve formula was first developed in 1938 by Douds, Iowa-born John Fremont "J.F." "Grandpa" McCullough (1871‒1963) and his son Alex. They convinced friend and loyal customer Sherb Noble to offer the product in his ice cream store in Kankakee, Illinois. On the first day of sales, Noble dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert within two hours. Noble and the McCulloughs went on to open the first Dairy Queen store in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. While this Dairy Queen has not been in operation since the 1950s, the building still stands at 501 N Chicago St. as a city-designated landmark. Since 1940, the chain has used a franchise system to expand its operations globally. The state with the most Dairy Queen restaurants is Texas. The Texas Dairy Queen Operators' Council facilitates marketing and the food system in Texas. Dairy Queen International is the parent company of Dairy Queen. In the United States, it operates under American Dairy Queen. IDQ is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. At the end of its fiscal year 2014, Dairy Queen reported over 6,400 stores in more than 25 countries; about 4,500 of its stores (approximately 70%) were located in the United States.
DQ was an early pioneer of food franchising, expanding its 10 stores in 1941 to 100 by 1947, 1,446 in 1950, and 2,600 in 1955. The first store in Canada opened in Estevan, Saskatchewan, in 1953. The red Dairy Queen symbol was introduced in 1959. The company became International Dairy Queen, Inc. (IDQ) in 1962. In 1987, IDQ bought the Orange Julius chain. IDQ was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 1998. Dairy Queens were a fixture of social life in small towns of the Midwestern and Southern United States during the 1950s and 1960s. In that role, they have often come to be referenced as a symbol of life in small-town America, as in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond by Larry McMurtry, Dairy Queen Days by Robert Inman, and Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights by Bob Greene.
In 2012, all Dairy Queen stores began selling Orange Julius drinks.
The company's stores are operated under several brands, all bearing the distinctive Dairy Queen logo and carrying the company's signature soft-serve ice cream (along with the trademark "curl"). In the 1970s, most restaurants were "Brazier" locations with a second floor for storage, recognizable for their red mansard roofs.
As of the end of 2014, Dairy Queen had more than 6,400 stores in 27 countries, including more than 1,400 locations outside the United States and Canada.
While some stores serve a very abbreviated menu primarily featuring DQ frozen treats and may be open only during spring and summer, the majority of DQ restaurants also serve hot food and are open all year.
So-called "Limited Brazier" locations may additionally offer hot dogs, barbecue beef (or pork) sandwiches, and in some cases french fries and chicken, but not hamburgers. Dairy Queen Full Brazier restaurants serve a normal fast-food menu featuring burgers, french fries, and grilled and crispy chicken in addition to frozen treats and hot dogs.
Also known as the "Treat Center" concept, an enhanced version of the original stores also serves drinks and foods from the Orange Julius menu. This was the company's preferred concept for new, small-scale locations, primarily in shopping mallfood courts. Some early Treat Centers also included Karmelkorn. Since 2012, all Dairy Queen locations feature Orange Julius drinks.
The name "Brazier" originated in 1957 when one of the company's franchisees, Jim Cruikshank, set out to develop the standardized food system. When he witnessed flames rising from an open charcoal grill (a Brazier) in a New York eatery, he knew he had found the Brazier concept.
The "Brazier" name has been slowly phased out of signage and advertising since 1993, although it has not been removed from all existing signage. Since the early 2000s, new or renovated locations which are similar to Brazier restaurants in terms of size and menu selection, but have been updated with the current logo and/or exterior, usually carry the name "DQ Restaurant", although the website's Store Locator still lists the stores that do not carry the "Grill & Chill" name as "Dairy Queen Brazier" and the smaller stores "Dairy Queen Ltd Brazier". And some still retain the Brazier brand.
However, the company website still considers their burger and hot dog lines as "Brazier Foods", according to the History section and some FAQ listed topics in the website.
DQ Grill & Chill locations feature hot food, treats, table delivery and self-serve soft drinks. It is the new concept for new and renovated full-service restaurants. Stores are larger than older-style locations and feature a completely new store design. In most cases, they offer an expanded menu including breakfast, GrillBurgers, and grilled sandwiches, as well as limited table service (customers still place orders at the counter). They also contain self-serve soft drink fountains. Some of the older stores have upgraded to the new format. However, there are still older stores and stores that have not upgraded to the new format. In December 2001, Chattanooga, Tennessee was the site of the first two Dairy Queen Grill and Chill restaurants in the United States. The nation's largest DQ Grill & Chill is located in Bloomington, Illinois.
Most locations in Texas, including those which otherwise resemble the Brazier or DQ Grill & Chill formats, use a separate hot food menu branded as Texas Country Foods. Among other differences, "Hungr-Buster" burgers are available in place of the Brazier and GrillBurger offerings. Other food offerings not found outside Texas include the "Dude" country-fried steak sandwich, steak finger country baskets, T-Brand tacos, and a one-half pound double meat hamburger, the "BeltBuster.".
Texas is home to the largest number of Dairy Queens in the U.S. All Texas Dairy Queen restaurants are owned and operated by franchisees. The Texas Dairy Queen Operators' Council (TDQOC) runs a separate marketing website from the national website. Bob Phillips, host of the popular Texas syndicatedtelevision seriesTexas Country Reporter, was for many years the DQ spokesman in Texas, as the restaurant was a co-sponsor of the program at the time.
The company's products expanded to include malts and milkshakes in 1949, banana splits in 1951, Dilly Bars in 1955, Mr. Misty slush treats in 1961 (later renamed Misty Slush, then again to Arctic Rush), Jets, Curly Tops, Freezes in 1965, and a range of hamburgers and other cooked foods under the Brazier banner in 1958. In 1971 the Peanut Buster Parfait, consisting of peanuts, hot fudge, and vanilla soft serve, was introduced. In 1995, the Chicken Strip Basket was introduced, consisting of 4 (or 6) pieces of chicken strips, Texas toast (Only in US), fries, and cream gravy (gravy in Canada). Other items include sundaes and the blended coffee drink, the MooLatte.
The majority of Dairy Queen locations serve Pepsi products, but unlike most other restaurants such contracts are not mandated onto the franchisee, and as a result some locations serve Coca-Cola products instead. Wendy's (until 1998), Subway (until 2003), Arby's (until 2006), IHOP (until 2012), and Applebee's (until 2012) also allowed such leniency on beverage choice before signing exclusive soft drink deals with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, making Dairy Queen the last major restaurant chain without an exclusive soft drink contract.
A woman holding a Dairy Queen Banana Cream Pie Blizzard
A popular Dairy Queen item is the Blizzard, which is soft-serve mechanically blended with mix-in ingredients such as sundae toppings and/or pieces of cookies, brownies, or candy. It has been a staple on the menu since its introduction in 1985, a year in which Dairy Queen sold more than 100 million Blizzards. Popular Blizzard flavors include Oreo Cookies, mintOreo, chocolate chipcookie dough, M&M's (M&M's Minis in Canada), Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Heath Bar (Skor in Canada), and Butterfinger (Crispy Crunch in Canada). Seasonal flavors are also available such as October's Pumpkin Pie. It has been argued that Dairy Queen drew its inspiration from the concrete served by the St. Louis based Ted Drewes. On July 26, 2010, Dairy Queen introduced a new "mini" size Blizzard, served in 6 oz. cups. During the 25th Anniversary of the Blizzard, two special Blizzards were released. They were Strawberry Golden Oreo Blizzard and Buster Bar Blizzard. Another one, called Salted Caramel Truffle was released during the Blizzard's 30th Anniversary and Dairy Queen's 75th Anniversary.
Prior to the introduction of the Blizzard in 1985, Dairy Queen served conventional "thick" milk shakes, in traditional flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, with or without added malt on request.
In addition, Dairy Queen offers a Blizzard Cake in flavors such as Oreo and Reese's. Much like the restaurant's conventional ice cream cake, this variation is aimed toward celebrations and birthdays.
In 1990, Dairy Queen began offering frozen yogurt as a lower-calorie alternative to its soft serve ice cream. According to a company representative, Dairy Queen's regular soft serve has 35 calories per ounce and is 95% fat free, whereas the frozen yogurt was 25 calories per ounce. However, in 2001, the company phased out the frozen yogurt option in all its stores citing a lack of demand.
In 2010, International Dairy Queen Inc filed a request for a preliminary injunction to stop Yogubliz Inc, a small California-based frozen yogurt chain, from selling "Blizzberry" and "Blizz Frozen Yogurt", alleging that the names could confuse consumers due to their similarity to Dairy Queen's Blizzard. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner denied Dairy Queen's request.
For many years the franchise's slogan was "We treat you right." During the early and mid 1990s, the slogan "Hot Eats, Cool Treats" came into use and preceded the aforementioned line in the Dairy Queen jingle. In recent years, it has been changed to "DQ: Something Different." A recent tagline, featured in early 2011, was "So Good It's RiDQulous," with Dairy Queen's current logo infused in the word 'ridiculous'. Now, their new tagline reads, "Fan Food, not Fast Food".
In Texas, at the end of advertisements, frequently there is a Texas flag waving, and the new DQ logo and slogan below saying, "The Texas Stop Sign", though the jingle uses "This is where we stop in Texas." Previous slogans included "That's what I like about Texas", "For Hot Eats & Cool Treats, Think DQ", "Nobody beats DQ Treats & Eats", "DQ is Value Country", and "This is DQ Country". These advertisements featured Texas Country Reporter host Bob Phillips as spokesperson, since his program was mainly sponsored by Dairy Queen.
Dennis the Menace and other characters from the comic strip appeared in Dairy Queen marketing as a spokestoon from 1971 until December 2002, when he was dropped because Dairy Queen felt children could no longer relate to him.
The advertising focused on a mouth with a tongue licking its large lips, which morphs into the present Dairy Queen logo (2001 logo in 2006). This was removed in 2011.
In 2011, Grey New York produced outlandish spots featuring a dapper man, played by John Behlmann, sporting a moustache, performing crazy feats for Dairy Queen. After announcing tasty menu offers, he would do something outrageous, like blow bubbles with kittens in them, water ski while boxing, and break a piñata where Olympic gymnastics great Mary Lou Retton tumbles out. Later, the same firm made additional commercials based around odd situation titles, which had the DQ logo placed somewhere in them, like Gary DQlones Himself, Now That's A Lunchtime DQuandary! and After The DQonquest. All were narrated by a man with an English accent.
In 2015 Dairy Queen and model railroad company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wm. K. Walthers came out with a Walthers Cornerstone HO 1:87 Scale models of a restaurant — one from the 1950s with the original logo and one from 2007–present with current logo. The models are both officially licensed replica of Dairy Queen.
The original Dairy Queen logo was simply a stylized text sign with a soft serve cone at one end. In the late 1950s, the widely recognized red ellipse design was adopted. The initial shape was asymmetrical, with one of the side points having a greater extension than the other, especially when matched with the Brazier sign—a similarly sized yellow ovoid, tucked diagonally below its companion. By the 1970s, both sides were more closely matched, becoming symmetrical with the 2006 update (see online images for comparison). Some of the new 1950s signs continued to display a soft serve cone jutting from the right side. "Little Miss Dairy Queen" began appearing in Pennsylvania signage in 1961. She had a Dutch bonnet, resembling the ellipse logo, with a pinafore apron over her dress and wooden shoes. A yellow trapezoid Brazier sign, placed below the red Dairy Queen logo, was developed in the late 1960s. It matched the roofline of the new store design of the era.
Although it had been used interchangeably with the Dairy Queen name for many decades, "DQ" became the company's official name in 2001. The font remained the same as in the original signage introduced 60 years prior. Throughout this period, the company placed the registered mark symbol immediately to the right, on the bottom side of the logo. When the company modernized its signage and logos in late 2006, it modified the font and italicized the letters, as well as adding arced lines, an orange one to represent its hot foods above and a blue one below to represent its ice cream products. Additionally, in the new design the registered mark symbol was moved to be adjacent to the letter "Q". The first overhaul of its logo in almost 70 years, the company claimed that the new logo would show brand growth and reflect the "fun and enjoyment" associated with its products. Advertising industry observers have noted that the new logo was an unneeded update of known and trusted industry brand and that its new features were distracting.
The original signage is still in use in older locations or in locations that use a "retro" design motif in the property's design. One example is the sign used at the Dairy Queen in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Prototype Dairy Queen logo from 1940–1960, still in use at a small number of locations
1960-2001, still in use on some signs, including Brazier locations
2001-2007, secondary logo, still in use on some signs
Otis, Caroline Hall; Mundale, Susan (1990). The Cone with the Curl on Top: Celebrating Fifty Years, 1940-1990: the Dairy Queen Story. Minneapolis, Minn: International Dairy Queen, Inc. ISBN0-9629040-0-7. OCLC22993919.