Boo Dairy Queen! Sunday Food Thread 5/28

So I just learned that Dairy Queen corporate has pulled the franchise from the 70+ year old shop on Carbondale’s “Strip”. Mostly known as the epicenter of SIU’s party school image, anyone who’s spent any amount of time in that town will know that DQ. The building and establishment are iconic. Apparently DQ Corp is pulling the rug out from under other small walk-up locations in an effort to rebrand. Well I think their new brand stinks! I spent three years at SIU and had many cones at that shop. It was so small they would only sell chocolate on Thursdays. There were always long lines on Thursdays. Getting a cone and hanging out on the steps was an inexpensive, fun, and sometimes informative (where are the parties this weekend?) way to kill an hour or so.

I sure do hope Mr. Waicukauski is able to keep the place going. Having to remove/replace that sign will be a sad day for sure. Just look at that beauty.

If you can’t see the link above (I could only find this particular write up on facebook) here’s the full text:


By: Brian Munoz | @brianmmunoz

CARBONDALE, Ill. — If you’ve ever visited this southern Illinois college town there are few things that are instantly recognizable: Southern Illinois University’s Pulliam Clocktower; the historic Varsity Theater; and arguably one of the most notable “you know if you know” icons — a massive neon blinking Dairy Queen sign that sits atop of a stout white building along the town’s main drag.

The Waicukauski family name has been synonymous with the walk-up locale for decades.

Mark Waicukauski, 67 grew up in Carbondale working at the old-school ice cream shop alongside his family. Mark was only 9-years-old, the second youngest of six, when remembers going and pick up the trash outside the shop that his father began operating in the late ‘60s.

Throughout his life, Waicukauski said he’s been able to witness history from the windows of the little store on Illinois Avenue — the week of rioting surrounding the Vietnam War that led to the National Guard being deployed in ‘70, the rowdy Halloween street parties of the 2000s, and the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse.

“That was our busiest day we ever had,” he told me over the phone from his Carbondale home. “That day of the eclipse.”

Waicukauski took over the shop with the blinking neon sign from his father Joe in 1982, who worked at the Prairie Farms down the street before taking the shop over in the ‘60s from Jack Kloever. Despite Mark picking up the store from his father, Joe would later go on to work alongside Mark for decades. Joe passed away in 2016, but Mark decided to carry on his legacy as a community man, truly caring about the people he served and the greater Carbondale community.

SIU alumni over the greater part of the last century can likely recall the shared experience the Waicukauski’s ice cream shop created — laughter filling the hot summer air while sitting on the Illinois Avenue, a dilly bar or sundae in tow as sweat wells up on your forehead. The red glow from the store’s neon sign painting the street, sidewalk, and visitors looking to share a sweet treat. It’s something that can be hard to describe, but to so many of us they’re some of our fondest memories.

“I took pride in that,” Waicukauski said. “I’ll stop and talk to anybody that has memories of downtown and I really enjoy it.”

Everything changed on Friday when Dairy Queen corporate pulled Waicukauski’s franchise licensing from the roughly 70-year-old locale. “We disagreed about the ways things should be run, that’s for damn sure,” he told me, pausing to think about his words. “A lot of the decisions Dairy Queen’s making these days definitely don’t go along with what’s best for my little ice cream shop.”

Waicukauski said he has been informed he is not allowed to run the shop any longer with any Dairy Queen insignias or branding — including the iconic sign that sits atop of his building.

“There’s no ifs ands or buts about that,” Waicukauski chuckled, noting their attempt to end their long-time contract for several years. But, he adds, that’s not going to stop him and he hopes to continue operating independently in his own vision. “I just got to look into see what I have to do and just talk to a lot of people and see what we’re gonna have to do.”

The Carbondale-based Dairy Queen isn’t the only one to feel the impact of a sudden closure today as the chain’s owner, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway, moves forward with its 2019 “Next Gen Design” — moving Dairy Queens from traditional ice cream shops to “Grill & Chill” locations. The new vision has stores offer indoor and outdoor dining and hot food items, in addition to traditional DQ staples like Blizzards and Dilly Bars.

The Dairy Queen in Glen Carbon, Illinois announced its sudden closure today. “We’re thankful for all the DQ fans that have supported this location over the last 9.5 years and for many years before with other owners,” they wrote in part on social media.

A trend has been widely reported on with similar tactics leading to the closing of walk-up Dairy Queen shops in Mortion, Illinois, and Merritt Island, Florida.

“The last 28 years has had its share of ups and downs,” wrote Mike and Deb Gentile, the owners of Dairy Queen on Merritt Island, in a noticed posted on one of the walk-up windows earlier this year announcing their closure. “But with each passing year, Dairy Queen Corporate puts more and more unrealistic demands on us, leading us down a path that we would not have chosen.”

At this point, Waicukauski said, he’s just going to take things a day at a time and see what he can do moving forward — heeding his father’s advice from years ago.

“My father always thought an ice cream shop needed extra things to bring the people in and now Dairy Queen is not allowing that. He would have agreed you have to have something,” he said. “He always cared about everything was [done] right. He wanted to put out a great product. He always wanted that.”

As social media floods with the news of the suspected closure, Waicukauski said he can reassure people he’s not going anywhere. While things may look a little different moving forward or even have a different name, he’s hoping to continue helping create those lifelong memories for years to come.

“I’ve had a lot of love and support tonight from a lot of people. You know, everybody wants to support me and help keep us doing the best we can,” Waicukauski said. “I think this all will be a good thing in the future — just not right today.”

Brian Munoz is a multimedia journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at or on social media at @brianmmunoz.