Dairy Queen, that is, opened today in Palmer! It is only the third one in the state. I had marked the opening day on my calendar and got in the drive-through line that stretched into the grocery store’s parking lot. It took 14 minutes to get a small hot fudge sundae, but really that wasn’t much longer than it used to take to get a Whopper when the building was formerly a Burger King. I overheard the car in front of me make a comment to Mr. Order Taker that it sure was busy. “Yep, over 900 served so far today!” the young man said cheerfully. I could hear crickets chirping each time I pulled up to the Burger King drive-through, and service was glacially slow. “Sorry, our shake machine is down today,” they’d say when I asked for a vanilla shake. It was at least three months that “today the shake machine was down.”
Anyway, this hot fudge sundae was well worth the wait. Five long years since I exiled myself to Alaska from the Land of Dairy Queen HQ and a Few Lakes Too. So creamy. It brought back so many memories. I guess now they’re called Grill & Chills instead of Braziers. Growing up in Iowa, we mostly had Tastee Freezes or drive-in ice cream shacks. One of the upgrades to living in Minneapolis when I moved there after college was a Dairy Queen in every neighborhood. When I was new in Minneapolis, I rented in the bad part of town. Our DQ was a red and white box a little bigger than a garden shed that shut down for winter and put a sheet of painted plywood over the ordering window. After I was making some money and could buy a house, I bought into the American Dream: a two story home with a nice yard, six blocks from the Mississippi River and its parks, and also a walk-in Dairy Queen that stayed open all year. Ah, that was living.
Idling along in line for the drive-through, today I noticed the plastic milk crates that had been hastily chucked out the back door by the order station. I didn’t have my glasses on—what did the printing on that crate say? It said Umpqua Dairy. What the heck is an Umpqua? I’m thinking it must be a Washington State brand. Well, that’s probably how it’s gotta be…Our hometown dairy, Matanuska Maid, just decided to shut down this past year…It first opened in 1936 when the Colonists were new to Alaska, and it has served Alaska for 71 years. There are five remaining dairy farmers in Alaska (four right here in our Valley) who provide milk to Mat Maid, and it’s likely they will be forced to close, unless something new comes along. In the meantime, I guess Dairy Queen will churn out sundae after sundae with Washington milk. One beloved Valley institution closes, and a new dairy treat comes to town.