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Dude! Dairy Queen is just different in Texas.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The Country Basket. The BeltBuster. The Dude.

If you’ve been in Texas long, you probably recognize these memorable offerings from the menu at your local Dairy Queen. But if you order a “Dude” at a DQ outside Texas, you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.

Emily McCullar wrote in the February issue of Texas Monthly about why Texas Dairy Queens are just different from the rest. She told Texas Standard it all started when a group of Texas franchisees came up with menu items they felt represented Texas. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You grew up in Texas, and I guess a lot of people who grew up in Texas might think that DQ got started here, but I understand it didn’t.

Emily McCullar: It did not. It’s a midwestern chain, but I didn’t know that until I was like 20.

What is, or was, the TDQOC and how did they end up remaking DQ in the image of Texas?

So the Texas Dairy Queen Operators Council was just a group of franchisees who were owning and operating their own Dairy Queen franchises around the state. And they decided to get together, pool some resources and make sure that their menus matched and just work as a team.

So they did this above and beyond outside of the purview of DQ HQ?

Absolutely. Yeah. They did it just because it was better for their business down here and they had the freedom to do it.

Well, now I mentioned the food – more burgers and chicken fried steak. Other states DQ focuses on desserts, I suppose you could say. How else are Texas Dairy Queens different? 

Well, we have our own advertising campaign, so that’s why you have iconic jingles. Like “that’s what I like about Texas.” But also, one of the main things is we always just had so many more. The DQ owner, Rolly Klose, was giving out all of these franchises. There were just so many of them. We had a thousand at one point and no other state has that.

Well, now I understand the DQ HQ didn’t take kindly to what the Texans were doing. Was there some kind of legal fight at some point? 

They couldn’t do anything about it until the mid-eighties because Rolly Klose, he had the right to kind of do whatever he wanted. But after that, when he sold that right back to them, DQ HQ wanted Texans to get in line and start putting up the menus that everybody else was and doing advertising like everybody else was. And Texas Dairy Queen owners just didn’t take kindly to that.

Who is Rolly Klose? 

Rolly Klose was a business owner and he opened the first Dairy Queen in Texas in 1947.

Now, where is Dairy Queen headquarters right now? 

Right now it’s in Minnesota. It started in Illinois.

And do they have much interaction with the Texas Dairy Queens? 

I believe they do. But one Dairy Queen operator told me that everybody just kind of peacefully coexists. So, yeah, Texas Dairy Queen owners still kind of get to do what they want to do with menus and advertising. And it works out great for everybody, I suppose.

Well, you know, I think we should point out that Dairy Queens in Texas hold a special place in a lot of small towns. The DQ was really the only game in town when it came to eating out once upon a time, and in some cases still is today, right?

Yes. In fact, the DQ symbol was known as the “Texas Stop Sign” for a while just because it was such an iconic spot in small towns across Texas. Unfortunately, a lot of small towns have lost their Dairy Queens in the past few decades, so it does not quite have the footprint that it once did. But I think that’s part of what made it so iconic here, is that there were so many of them that there could be one in every small town. And then they became so tied to Texan’s identity. And, you know, Texans, we really like our Texan identity. So we tend to hold on tight to those things. And Dairy Queen, it became Texan by default.

Well, has the Texas DQ menu changed that much over the years?

They add things. Like I think they had a Hungr-Buster that had guacamole on it at one point. Or they’ll introduce new limited menu items just like any other fast food chain. But they’re always unique to the Texas Dairy Queens. It hasn’t changed much. The Country Baskets are still there. You can still get white gravy and the Dude and the Hungr-Busters – everything in that burger family.

You know I came across a Dairy Queen – I think it was outside of Johnson City. And I was surprised to see chicken dumplings on the menu. How much latitude do these places have to just drop in cornbread or whatever else the locals might want? 

You know, I think there’s some organization with the Texas Dairy Queen Operators Council, but I don’t think International DQ can really stop them from doing much. I could be wrong about that. I think they can kind of set their menus how they want.

When you said “International DQ,” it hit my ears wrong. I couldn’t even conceive of such a thing. But there are DQ’s in other parts of the world?

There are.

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