When Cameron Grothe bit into his Dairy Queen chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cone Wednesday, his face lit up like he was reunited with an old friend.
“I definitely remember this,” Grothe, 18, said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time — it’s really good.”
The cone was the first one served up during the official grand reopening of the Soldotna Dairy Queen Wednesday. The eatery, and neighboring Alaska Fudge and Gifts were destroyed by a fire in June. Wednesday also marked the opening of Gifts and Gadgets, which replaced the fudge shop.
Peter and Val Ischi own both businesses and said they were impressed with the new and improved Dairy Queen facility.
“I would actually say that it’s better than we expected,” Val said. “Even though we didn’t have a lot of time to plan, we just kind of went as we went. I think we’re extremely pleased with the end result.”
The restaurant now features an updated, modern appearance that mimics other Dairy Queens throughout the country. Despite the lack of model airplanes and trophies from the past — there was still a very large crowd Wednesday at 11 a.m. awaiting the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
“We’ve been here since 9:30 a.m.,” said 16-year-old Becca Atkins, who was the first patron at the door.
Customers came from not only the Central Peninsula, but there were some from Anchorage too.
“Even before it burnt down, we would come all the way from Anchorage over here and I would get Pete to freeze the Blizzards and we’d take them back to Anchorage with us,” Anchorage resident Linda Johns said. “There’s like five Dairy Queens in the Anchorage area, but it’s not the same. This is the best. It’s a landmark, it really is.”
The walk-in line stretched past the shop next door, and the drive-thru line reached into the Hooligan’s Lodge parking lot.
Pascale Dilley was the second vehicle in line at the drive-thru. She said her husband missed the burgers, so her plan was to surprise him with one.
Dilley also said the eatery is a landmark of the Peninsula.
“I think only in Alaska are you going to find people that are going to want ice cream year-round,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s minus 40 (degrees) or plus-50 (degrees).”
The restaurant serves all types of food, but their specialty is their ice cream treats.
“You can go to the store and buy ice cream, but it’s Dairy Queen,” Annie Schwartz said as she stood in line outside.
Schwartz and her husband Alex were in line with their four kids. Before they moved to the Peninsula 10 years ago, they would make it a point to visit the restaurant.
“When we came to go fishing or whatever, we’d stop at this Dairy Queen,” Annie Schwartz said. “It used to be the only Dairy Queen in the state, so that was the attraction for us back in the day.”
Alex’s favorite ice cream is the cones dipped in butterscotch, Annie said most places will have caramel, but not butterscotch.
Annie said it was a bummer when the building closed this summer.
“Part of my reason for being here today is to show support to the owners,” she said.
Hunter Brewer, a 17-year-old from Soldotna, said he grew up going to the Dairy Queen with his family after baseball games and other family outings. When he learned about its closing this summer, he was conflicted on where to get his ice cream.
“There was no good ice cream anymore,” he said.
Val Ischi said she was floored by the amount of community support her and Peter received through the whole rebuilding process. She said she feels a sense of pride when she hears from customers not just on the Peninsula, but everywhere she goes in the state.
“Statewide, we’ve heard the same thing from other people, ‘It’s a family tradition kind of thing, when we come to the Peninsula, you go to Dairy Queen,’” she said.
Just like it’s a family tradition to many across the state, it’s a 25-year-old family business, Val Ischi said.
“My daughter came home from college and my son came down from Anchorage, just because this is our family business,” she said.
For Grothe, he knows Dairy Queen’s ice cream is something special, but he can’t put his finger on the exact reason.
“I don’t know, the chocolate, and I guess the way they make it, it’s like nobody else’s ice cream,” he said. “It’s so different, it’s really good.”