The Dairy Queen franchise started as a small, father-son business, grew into a handful of walk-up ice cream shops and then exploded into one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world, offering dine-in seating and an ever-expanding menu of food and frozen treats.
The DQ on Main Street in Murray, however, is one of a dwindling number of DQs that has kept it simple and made it work.
The Main Street DQ first opened its service window to the public in 1952. Through 62 years and two ownerships, the store has managed to stick to its classic menu offerings of ice cream treats and chili dogs.
No burgers, no fries. Just regular or foot-long chili dogs. It still closes its service window from November to February, just like it did in 1952.
Despite pressure from the folks at DQ corporate to expand and change, it churns on as is, one of the only walk-up style DQs left in America. Despite competition from newer, bigger business, business at the DQ is still going strong.
"Corporate would love for us to knock that building down and build a big DQ that stays open year-round," Murray DQ owner Leslie Kemp said. "But I tell you, kids who grew up here and come back to see it hasn't changed get so thrilled. People want to hold on to Murray in some way, and the DQ is one of those ways." People find comfort and have appreciation for good things that stay the same, and the folks behind the service window at DQ are no exception. From its menu offerings, to its decor, to its employees, they take pride in the fact that for them, change comes slowly. Murray State student and DQ manager Laikenn Greer has been working there for six years now and feels lucky to be a part of what has become a Murray institution.
"I enjoy the people that I work with, and my bosses are amazing," she said, taking a short break from her managerial duties. "Plus, every Dairy Queen I've ever been to, it's never tasted like the ice cream here. I'm eventually going to have to leave, but I definitely will miss them and miss this experience."
Kemp said the DQ has average turnover for a small business with so many part-time employees but has always had a core group of people like Laikenn who stick around. Kemp admitted that she'll have a hard time leaving the place herself. Her husband and co-owner Hal Kemp retired last year and has been encouraging her to do the same.
"Maybe I'll retire when I'm 65. That sounds like a good number," she said. "I enjoy what we do. It's a lot of work, but it's well worth it. Some of the kids are like our own children. We try to take good care of them and teach them what we can as we go. You wouldn't think it, but there's a lot to learn!" Through 62 years and two ownerships, little has changed within or about the DQ at 1303 Main Street, and its stay-the-course steadiness seems to have served it and its patrons well. The Kemps made it until 2008 before adding a cash register. They remained a cash-only establishment until 2009. Leslie Kemp said she was wary of adding things like ice cream cakes and the Orange Julius. She wants it to stay an ice cream shop.
She will admit, however, that even though it's not ice cream, she's excited to try the hot desserts she hears DQ corporate will be rolling out this fall. It would be a change, but it's one she thinks her patrons will like. If they do, they will be able to get the hot fudge cake and apple pies through that DQ service window.