Restaurant News

Dairy Queen Expanding in Metro Phoenix

Ah, the ice cream of our youth.
Ah, the ice cream of our youth. Laurie Notaro

As summer approaches, it's becoming clear that the ice cream selection in metro Phoenix is not so hot.

What happened to all the Baskin Robbins? Where's my Thrifty cone? I can get down with artisanal ice cream (but please, hold the foie gras in my frozen treat) and the whole science-y watch-it-made-before-my-eyes thing was cool the first time, but really, I'm craving the cheap stuff of my youth.

Thank goodness for Dairy Queen.

The soft-serve giant is poised to open three to five new franchises here in the upcoming year, with a couple of new ones already opened this spring. Turns out, this area is one of the biggest growth markets the company will see this year.

What makes Phoenix such a welcoming place for Dairy Queen?

"People like to eat softer serve and ice cream when it's hot," says Mike Mettler, vice president of franchise sales and development for Dairy Queen, Inc. "People love DQ!"

As of early 2017, there were already 77 Dairy Queens in Maricopa County, and the corporation had identified 25 more seed points that are looking pretty darn good, Mettler adds.

Baskin Robbins has been quietly closing up locations all over the Valley — four in the last three years. At latest count, B 'n' R's corporate office totals 21 left, but adds that four more are slotted to open this year, keeping their franchise numbers steady. Cold Stone Creamery has suffered notable franchise closures and legal troubles in the past, with 32 left in the Valley, according to their corporate office.

Dairy Queen outlets outnumber both by a long shot. What makes DQ think it can not only expand its presence here, but thrive?

Mettler says he's got great franchisees. But the other reasons are a little more interesting: the drive-thru, and savory options from DQ's Grill and Chill, a new model that's become the company's standard.

"Lunch is a huge market. Our competitors don't have that ability."

True, you won't be able to get Foie Gras Oatmeal Raisin Cream Pie (not making that flavor up; or Earl Grey ice cream at a drive-thru, but there is something to be said about knowing what you're getting, especially if you have offspring in the backseat. No one is going to have fun when your 4-year-old orders a funky flavored treat despite your advice and it doesn't live up to his his expectations. That's a hissy fit you won't soon forget, and the brand of vomit the local car wash is going to have a hard time getting out of your Tahoe.

But when your kid orders a Dilly Bar, they're going to get a Dilly Bar. It will look just like the picture on the drive-thru. And Dairy Queen doesn't suffer "tasters," which is a shining benefit in any food-related business. No tasters ahead of you means that you get your ice cream faster. That's a bonus that can't be ignored.

And it goes without saying — but don't look for anything organic, sugar-free, gluten free, or nut-free at DQ Grill and Chill any time soon. Instead, Mettler points to a new "hot dessert" menu featuring hot funnel cakes, hot brownies, and a stuffed cookie, though that also means they've dropped some of their old standards. The Brownie Earthquake Sundae, for example, is now extinct. Never coming back, despite begging. Instead, Mettlin lobbies for a new item menu, the Royal Blizzard. "We put hot fudge in the center," he says with enthusiasm. "It's phenomenal."

The newest DQ locations are in Surprise (15261 North Reems Road) and Laveen (7770 South 51st Street), with two locations in Chandler opening later this year.

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Laurie Notaro