After months of speculation surrounding the status of Dairy Queen in Clinton, closed last summer when a fire toppled the Waffle Kitchen and left the beloved ice cream establishment damaged, it’s official: DQ will return and will “come back better,” owners said.
On Monday, Dairy Queen owners met with the City of Clinton Planning and Zoning Technical Review Committee, which had been reviewing site plans. The requisite permits were granted by the committee and work began in earnest at the site this past week, with portions of the existing building demolished and the foundation prepped for an expansion.
“Everybody is ready for this to get open, and we appreciate our customers. We’re sorry we haven’t been able to get this back open sooner,” property owner Bill Peterson said. “Believe me, there is no one more than us who would like to see it open. We have had a lot of support and I think a lot of people said little prayers for us. Everywhere I go around town, even now, I run into at least two or three people who ask ‘when are you going to open?’”
It has been close to 10 months since an early-morning blaze July 30 ripped through the Waffle Kitchen side of the building, a restroom exhaust fan deemed the cause.
Bill and Tamara Peterson owned the 60-year-old Dairy Queen next door along with the property previously leased to Joan Wilson for the Waffle Kitchen, which was demolished at the beginning of this year. While the Waffle Kitchen is expected to make a move to Faison Highway (N.C. 403) under a new name, Dairy Queen is staying put and expanding into the former Waffle Kitchen footprint.
Preserving the history of that building, while adding new features in planning for the future, is the goal.
“We will keep the history of (the building),” Peterson remarked. “The biggest change is it’s expanding, but you won’t notice it that much. We’re going to (build) on what was the Waffle Kitchen side. We had hoped to put a sit-down dining room there, but we ran into difficulties with Dairy Queen.”
Instead, there is going to be an outdoor patio area and a serving window on the Waffle Kitchen side of the Dairy Queen building. The wooden picnic area on the back will be eliminated in favor of that patio area, however the DQ’s 1950s-era walk-up window in front will be preserved, as will the drive-thru window.
“The walls from the Dairy Queen will essentially be there and a side window will be opened on the Waffle Kitchen side, so one of the two walk-up windows on the front will be closed and moved to the side,” Peterson noted. “The walk-in cooler that was inside — what you’re seeing when you look in there — is being taken out and we’re going to put it behind the building and brick it in. That creates a whole lot of extra space for future things in there.”
To meet code, the existing building had to be rewired. As long as that had to be completed, Peterson said plumbing would be upgraded and other renovations, including a roof replacement, completed.
“As long as we were re-doing this now, we decided to go ahead and re-do the roof and several other things. Not that it was major fire damage or anything, but as long as we’re having to do this big of a project, we didn’t want to have to come back five or 10 years from now and reinvent the wheel,” he pointed out.
In prepping the DQ for its rebirth, Peterson is mindful that last summer’s blaze not only served as a personal tragedy for his family, but adversely affected the Clinton mainstay’s employees and customers.
Dairy Queen employed some 20 young people, most of them between the ages of 16 and 20, with hundreds of young people coming through the store through the years, etching their signatures into the interior facade, just above the customer service window. Those signatures will be preserved.
After all, Peterson noted, it is those employees and the loyal customers who made the DQ a “Sampson County legacy” for six decades. The Petersons promised at the beginning of this year to bring back “the same Dairy Queen you have grown up with and loved, but with a new twist.”
While that effort has hit snags along the way, the move toward a bigger, better Dairy Queen now begun in earnest.
“We’re hoping it’s a lot sooner than the end of the summer,” Peterson stated of the reopening. “We’ve been delayed by some things that were just beyond our control, but we are trying to get it done as quickly as we can. We know we’ve got a lot of loyal customers and we don’t want to lose them. We’re going to come back and we’re going to come back better.”
Peterson was hesitant to attach a specific date, as he wanted to guard against any unforeseen construction hurdles. Some plans are still being finalized as part of the significant project so a timetable is not exactly known, said Peterson, who did not want to disappoint those who were eagerly awaiting Dairy Queen’s resurgence.
“As soon as we can get a hard date, we’ll start trying to put it out to everybody,” Peterson attested, “but we don’t want to put a date out there and not meet it.”
For updates, see the “Dairy Queen of Clinton-The Rebirth” Facebook page.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.