In the years to come, drought or not, Northern Nevada could see more Blizzards headed its way in more ways than one.
Dairy Queen, the international purveyor of soft-serve ice cream and fast food, has its sights set on opening up to eight new restaurants in the Reno-Sparks and Carson City region.
Currently, there are six Dairy Queen locations throughout Northern Nevada, and none in Reno. DQ had a longstanding presence in Northwest Reno before the fast-food restaurant closed its doors two years ago in July 2018.
“There are gaps in the market where we’re not serving all of the consumers of our brand,” said Jim Kerr, DQ’s executive vice president of franchise development. “We’re able to attract a lot of consumers across many day-parts and many weeks of the year. We attract a wide range of age groups, and we attract people traveling to and from work or schools or tourists.
“And the Reno market has a lot of attributes that Dairy Queens have as successful attributes for growth.”
Specifically, Dairy Queen’s franchise developers are looking to plant more DQs along the I-580 south corridor from Reno-Sparks down past Carson City, Kerr said.
The company is focused on expanding its Dairy Queen Grill & Chill concepts — full-service restaurants that can stand up to 2,600 square feet and seat up to 66 people.
Kerr noted that the company has also developed a smaller Grill & Chill prototype — 2,000 square feet and 45 seats — in response to changing consumer behavior caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the restaurant industry was hit hard by the COVID crisis, Kerr said Dairy Queen has weathered the storm thanks to drive-thru and delivery. The chain’s sales were impacted for a “short time period” before business quickly bounced back, he said.
“We’ve actually really been a positive on the sales perspective since early April,” he added.
The bump in sales amid a pandemic, Kerr feels, was partially driven by people and families seeking comfort in a chaotic time.
“Parents realized their kids were not going to school, and they were not going to the office, so they reached out for comfort, and Dairy Queen was part of that reaching out for comfort,” he said. “They felt going through the drive-thrus for not only the food, but to be able to take Blizzards and treats home were a real plus.”
To that end, Kerr said consumers’ dependence on drive thru and delivery options is going to keep the pace in the age of COVID.
“I believe the pandemic might have caused some possible long-term change in the minds of all consumers, where all of a sudden delivery has become more acceptable,” Kerr said. “Drive-thrus have significantly increased in volume, and we’re redesigning our restaurants to meet those needs.”
Dairy Queen, which has more than 7,000 locations worldwide, plans to open its new locations in greater Reno-Carson over the next five to seven years, Kerr said, who added that DQ doesn’t have specific locations as of now.
According to Dairy Queen’s investment info on its website, franchisees will have to meet a net worth requirement of $750,000 for a single unit, with $400,000 of liquid capital. The total investment range runs between $1.1 million to $1.9 million, and includes a $45,000 franchise fee for a 20-year term.
While Dairy Queen plans to work with existing franchisees, he said one of the company’s primary initiatives is to attract new DQ franchisees to “come in and build restaurants with us.”
He added that every new Dairy Queen that opens creates an average of 40-50 jobs.
To date, Dairy Queen’s presence in Northern Nevada includes franchises in Sparks, Carson City, Fallon, Fernley, Minden, Winnemucca and Elko. DQ also has a nearby franchise in Truckee.
Kerr said greater Reno-Sparks is one of more than half a dozen markets across the U.S. that Dairy Queen — celebrating its 80th anniversary this year — has targeted for expansion.
Other markets include: Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield in California; Milwaukee and Chicago in the Midwest; Baltimore and Washington, D.C. on the East Coast; and the greater Columbia and Greenville areas in South Carolina.