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Dairy Queen goes Down

Mike and Vickie Nielsen closed the Dairy Queen on Monday night of this week. They’ve owned the franchise for sixteen years. The Woodward’s owned it for many years before that. In fact, the DQ is considered one of the bedrock foundational institutions in Lake Geneva, especially late at night and in particular by those people who are ‘fudging’ a bit on their diets. There’s a prospective buyer for the place, but Mike would not reveal who the new owner might be. According to Mike the prospective owner already owns other fast food franchises in the area. The prospective buyer has to receive the approval of DQ Headquarters, and that HQ does not want to give permission to a new owner for a limited service place like the DQ in Lake Geneva has been. Apparently, the only approval the departing DQ had was as a soft serve stand.

The headquarters leadership forced the soft serve stand to sell Orange Julius products and some other stuff they couldn’t make any money on, again according to Mike. What Dairy Queen Home Office (way up there in Minneapolis) wants is for the stand to be turned into a full service restaurant. The new owner would have to make provisions to change into a full blown hot food service restaurant, and therein lies the rub. The City of Lake Geneva has indicated through Mr. Ken “Lighten up Francis” Robers, City Building Inspector and low-traveling enforcer of whatever arcane city rules need to be enforced, that there cannot be a full service restaurant allowed on the premises of what is currently the Dairy Queen building. What is the prospective new owner to do? He could pursue getting the zoning (or whatever ordinance prohibits DQ from serving hot food) changed, or he could simply walk away, figuring that the rather Quixotic Lake Geneva City Council might be too difficult to deal with.

On its last night of business, the line at the DQ extended out the door and down the street. The parking lot was overloaded, with people parking illegally everywhere. What could save Dairy Queen? A public uprising wouldn’t hurt. A visit to city hall at the next city council meeting of a clump of interested (albeit a bit chunky and hungry) residents certainly wouldn’t hurt, either. If the current prospective buyer bails out, for whatever reason, then a new one might just crop up out of nowhere because of the likely instant success of whatever form of DQ might replace the current one.

The sticking point for the city, the county and the state, regarding restaurants serving the public, has to do with public health and fire safety. In order to grill, use open fires or high capacity stoves, a place of business must put in very expensive ducting and safety equipment. The current building has none of those things. The diner down the street from the DQ spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on equipment before it finally got the approval of all the necessary entities to serve hot food. All of those regulations, by the way, are there because a lot of people literally died to get them into place. The rules make sense. The enforcement of those rules may be done with a bit of draconian application, however. Nonetheless, Lake Geneva remains a very safe place to eat out and have a good time, without going home to pay an awful price later on.

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