The Dairy Queen is one of the very few businesses in Fenwick Island that has been in the same location for more than 60 years. It was opened by Virgil Willey in 1952. Willey was the school principal in Bridgeville, and he opened and closed the “treat store,” as it was known, according to the school summer vacation schedule.
Lanta Conaway bought the store 10 years ago to be a family business. She and her husband, Don Conaway, are both Realtors and have lived in Fenwick Island all their lives. In fact, Lanta’s grandparents on both sides lived there.
“I remember when it was just a walk-up with a single window,” she said. “I even worked here as a teenager for a while. At first, they just sold vanilla, chocolate and twist cones — always with a curly-Q on top — and then milkshakes and malts, followed by banana splits. It was always called soft-serve, as real ice cream has 4-percent milk and ours is 2-percent milk.”
“They built this structure to last,” said Don Conaway. “The concrete was dug into the ground and the later additions to accommodate the open flame brazier, and then eat-in seating, are equally sound. Even in the 1962 storm, when many of the local cottages were destroyed, and recently during Sandy, no damage was done here.”
The Conaway’s have two sons, Don (known as “D.C.”) and Brett, who are the store’s managers, and their daughter, Candace, is the bookkeeper.
“We hear the local buzz when I post the opening date on the outside sign,” said Brett Conaway who also first worked there as a teenager. “People tell me they look forward to it being their first sign that summer really is coming. And then, when I announce the closing date in October, we see an influx of customers wanting their last Blizzard of the year.”
“The sign I put up that people like best is ‘Keep Crying Until Daddy Pulls Over,’” he added.
Dairy Queen created the Blizzard in 1985, and ever since it has been the favorite item sold. “Upside Down, Right Thick” was the slogan, and to this day every Blizzard sold gets turned over to prove it’s the real thing. Its deliciousness is tested only by the taster!
“The original flavors were Oreo, Butterfinger, strawberry and M&M,” said Brett. “Now there are over 40 flavors, and the Oreo is still the most popular, followed by Reese’s. In October, the special flavor of the month is pumpkin pie, and people love that, too.”
For interested customers, a poster depicting the history of the Blizzard is hanging on the wall.
This year, Dairy Queen has introduced a new treat that the Conaway family thinks will be another winning item on the menu: triple chocolate brownie à la mode!
“It is part of a new line called DQ Bakes, hot and cold! There’s also apple tart and fudge-stuffed chocolate chip cookie, all served à la mode. They are sinfully good!” said Lanta Conaway. Later, she admitted that, despite being surrounded by sweet treats, her favorite item on the menu is a chili-dog!
Another staple of the Fenwick Island Dairy Queen is teenage workers.
“I like to hire them at 14, when it’s their first summer job and keep them until they’re finished high school,” said Don Conaway.
“I like training them, too,” said Brett Conaway. “They work hard and have fun. It’s really a great job for them.”
Another staple at the store is the presence of Fenwick Island lifeguards, some of whom have also worked there.
“It’s so close to the beach, and it’s quick in and out,” said Zoe Gage. “I’ll usually have a cheeseburger or chicken strips for lunch and then come back at night for a Blizzard.”
Sunny Kondova was the Conaway family’s first employee when they took over 10 years ago. She came from Bulgaria on a work-travel visa and liked the job and the area so much that she stayed.
“They are nice people to work for. It’s fun. Everyone is friendly, and the customers love what we serve,” said Kondova.
What more can one ask?
Oh, yes — I’ll sit outside under one of those cheerful umbrellas and have a sinful triple chocolate brownie à la mode, please!