By M.V. Moorhead
Here in the Valley, the Dairy Queen stays open all year ‘round. This is not the case back in my beloved hometown of Erie, Penn. In the depths of a subarctic Great Lakes winter, not many people’s thoughts turn to cool ice-cream treats.
So it was a dreary sign of the impending months of snow and bitter wind when the drive-up Dairy Queen I frequented as a kid would close in late autumn. In the same way, it was a cheering sign that winter was on the ropes when the local DQ reopened in late spring.
Bill Sladek, who owns the DQ at Rural and Elliot in Tempe, hails from a similar climate. Even so, when the time came late this past year to spruce up his property, he managed to do it without closing.
“I’m from Minnesota,” says Sladek, who started with DQ corporate in Minneapolis in 1991 after answering an ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I had majored in agriculture. I thought I was going to farm, but I decided to try something else.”
Sladek worked as a new-store training manager and sold franchises, eventually covering an impressive territory that included Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona. It was in 1999 that he decided to enter the ownership side himself.
“The first owners [of the Rural and Elliot store] are still business partners of mine,” he notes. “Warren and Sandy Kingsbury. They ran it from ‘86 to ‘99, and I ran it since ’99.”
So Sladek’s restaurant has prepared for its 30th year with a touch of cosmetic surgery.
“Back in the day when it was built,” says Sladek, “they just took the design off the shelf.” But times have changed, and so has the architectural style of the Dairy Queen.
“Being a franchise, we remodeled to the ‘Grill & Chill’ specifications,” says Sladek. “We re-structured the building.”
Beginning in the fall of last year, Sladek’s contractors, Steve Bjornstad and Mark Peschke, removed the original solarium and added stone veneer to the building’s exterior, including two “chimneys” of stacked stone, as well as external LED lighting.
“And we added an outdoor patio,” he says.
The building still awaits a few final touches, however: “We’re getting new logos. They’re on order.”
Throughout almost all of this, however, the Dairy Queen has continued to serve its signature goodies to an adoring public, most of whom seem undeterred by whatever bricks-and-mortar sidestepping might be required.
“Sometimes we had to close the lobby, and sometimes we had to close the drive-thru,” admits Sladek, but on only a few occasions did the whole store have to close.
Asked what motivated him to shift from corporate employee to franchisee, Sladek—who now owns several other DQs around the Valley—cites “the ability make your own decisions.” But, he adds, “the worst part is you’re never not working.”
This may be changing, as well. With the Tempe DQ thoroughly rejuvenated and ready for the next few decades, it’s also undergone a change inside: “We have a new GM; her name is Michele Vasquez,” says Sladek. “Stop by and say hello.”
If you want to accept his invitation, the Dairy Queen is at 7510 S. Rural Road, northwest corner of Rural and Elliot. Call 480-831-7274 for details.