Stories from Texas

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February 10, 2016

Before We Had Social Media, We Had Dairy Queen

By: W.F. Strong

Texas has 600 Dairy Queens. About 20 percent of all Dairy Queens in the U.S. are in Texas. That’s a lot of Belt-Busters, y’all.

The oldest Dairy Queen in Texas is in Henderson. It opened in 1950.

Texas Monthly reported in 1979 that McDonald’s couldn’t get a foothold in small town Texas because DQ’s were the social, cultural and culinary centers of many towns. ¨People in small towns were particular about their food and particular about who served it to them, which was often a person who had been pouring the coffee there for twenty years and knew what people were gonna order before they ordered it. And they liked it that way.¨

Texas Dairy Queens have long had their own Texas menu. They were serving burgers when the rest of the country’s DQ’s were just selling soft serve ice cream.

DQ’s are among the most important institutions in small towns, right up there with school and church. It is often one of the few good places to eat and the primary meeting place in town. Bankers go there for coffee before the bank opens; Ranchers meet for lunch at DQ to discuss beef prices; school kids go there after school to see each other seeing other.

Before the internet, the Dairy Queen served as Facebook. If someone were “in a new relationship” it was announced nonverbally when Becky-Sue walked on Jim Bob’s arm, wearing his Football Letterman Jacket.

Or when Becky Sue broke up with Jim Bob, two months later, that too was announced when she arrived at DQ without Jim-Bob and without his jacket. Change in Relationship-formally announced.

Status Updates were shared in person, over coffee or by splitting a banana-split Sundae.

No one took pictures of their food. They simply looked over to the nearby booth and said, “I like what Carlos is havin´.”

Movie reviews were not posted anywhere, but they were developed in small groups sitting in a large, curved booth, eating burgers and fries right after they saw the film. Well, movie. No one used the word film, then.

Selfie’s were unheard of, and would have been regarded as immodest, anyway. But you could have someone else take a polaroid snapshot of you getting your 4H Best of Breed Trophy and the DQ people would post that on the quite real timeline bulletin board for all to see. They also posted pics of newborns and even weddings, the things Facebook and Instagram do now.

DQ’s don’t have as dominant a social role as they once did, but they still serve as the pit-stop parking lot for kids cruising the new version of “the drag” on weekends. But the social dimensions are handled by Instagram and Snapchat, the digital “drag” and the asphalt “drag,” working in harmony.

And DQ has gone international. You can go DQ in London or Paris. You can even go to DQ in Thailand, where you can get a vanilla cone – but you can’t get Texas Tacos.


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