SOFT-SERVE ICE CREAM, ACCORDING TO my father, is—and I quote—”an abomination unto the Lord.” That’s a minority opinion in the family and probably one reason the rest of us love it so. But we won’t settle for just any soft-serve: It has to be Dairy Queen’s. That’s the Texas way. When my expatriate siblings call to plan a visit home to Texas, they always say, “Can we stop at a Dairy Queen?” (The question is strictly rhetorical—it’s like asking, “Does that corn dog come on a stick?”) The chain is a small-town fixture, like a porch swing or a courthouse square; folklore has it that any town with two water towers will boast a Dairy Queen. A DQ stop was always the crowning moment of a Sunday drive and a welcome break on a long haul to visit kinfolk. The last time I saw my beloved Aunt Maxie before she died, we ate lunch at the Big Spring DQ. She had tacos. I had a dipped cone.
Texans have had a soft spot for DQ’s soft-serve for more than half a century. But—brace yourself—Dairy Queen isn’t native to Texas. The business started in Illinois and now has 5,700 outlets, including 200-plus stores overseas in places like Cyprus and Qatar. Texans so identify with Dairy Queen, though, that the state has its own DQ HQ as well as a different menu and customized advertising campaigns. But despite its status as a Texas institution, the number of outlets in the state has fallen from a high of 1,008 in 1980 to some 650 today. Last year DQs