DQ’s split a stunner

Franchise came to town in 1950

By ANDREW MCGINN

a.mcginn@beeherald.com

Dairy Queen closed up shop Sunday night in Jefferson faster than it would take for a Dilly Bar to melt on a park bench in July.

The surprise closure by the restaurant’s out-of-state corporate owner leaves Jefferson without a Dairy Queen franchise for the first time in nearly 70 years.

According to a local shift manager, the crew had been asked by management to close Sunday evening a little earlier than normal — which they did, following all normal procedures — in order to have a staff meeting.

By midday Monday, the overhead sign was already down, all DQ signage had been stripped off the building and out-of-state crews were carting things out.

No one is more stunned than the nine employees who lost their jobs — especially the one whose first day of work was the night before.

“Everybody was just shocked. Everybody started crying,” said Hailey Kleinheksel, the local shift manager who worked open to close Sunday. “All of us were pretty pissed. At least give us a two-week notice. We didn’t even get a 24-hour notice.”

The building, Kleinheksel said, had been listed for sale without any of them knowing it.

The Jefferson DQ was owned and operated by Bloomington, Minn.-based Fourteen Foods, a multistate franchisee of more than 220 Dairy Queen restaurants.

Within a half-hour of Sunday evening’s staff meeting, according to Kleinheksel, corporate was dismantling the restaurant.

A $4.5 billion brand, DQ is owned by Bloomington-based American Dairy Queen Corp., which in turn is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Fourteen Foods didn’t return a call from the Herald for comment.

Ken Paxton, executive director of the Greene County Development Corp., said Tuesday there’s interest in the building, but a contract hasn’t been signed.

He said he knew the building was for sale, and had been working with Fourteen Foods for a month.

“I really thought they’d keep it a while,” Paxton said.

Company officials told Paxton their restaurant in Jefferson was “on an island” — and, at times, the local DQ seemed marooned.

“They never managed it or worked with it,” Paxton said. “They just let it go.”

Dairy Queen would have marked its 70th year in Jefferson this spring. In May of 1950 — a decade after the first DQ opened in Joliet, Ill. — Millard Vance brought the franchise to town, locating it east of the fairgrounds on Lincoln Way. For years, it was open only seasonally.

A multitude of owners followed.

The current, year-round Dairy Queen on North Elm Street was constructed in 1997.

Kleinheksel disputes management’s assertion that the restaurant wasn’t making enough money.

“For a small town,” she said, “we were making profit.”

Employees on Sunday, she said, were given two choices — to travel to the Dairy Queen in Boone to work, or to stay and help corporate clear out the building.

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Jefferson, IA 50129

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