The Union Recorder

December 20, 2013

New Dairy Queen owners refresh space, service

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Dairy Queen of Milledgeville has been a staple eatery for more than 40 years for many area residents with a sweet tooth and those craving a meal in the company of good friends and family. 

Formerly owned and operated by Carl and Judy Cheely since 1970, the Milledgeville Dairy Queen has been under the ownership of business partners Al Autry of Dublin, Steven Stembridge of Juliette and Scott Roberts of Milledgeville since Oct. 7.

As the Dairy Queen company continues to make strides to move its 6,500 restaurants into the 21st century, the Milledgeville eatery’s new owners are in the midst of making headway for modernizing the space and service.

“We spruced up the property, redid the parking lot, put in a new fence in the back and did a lot of appearance upgrades. We even started walking food to the table for customers as part of the customer service aspect,” Autry said. “In today’s society, people are in a hurry and they don’t have time to wait or want to cook. We’re training the current employees right now to work with the speed of the business to be more efficient.”

The trio has been in business together for the past three years with the Zaxby’s company.

“We purchased our last Zaxby’s store last December in Pooler, Ga.,” Autry said. “About six months ago, we decided to get involved in Dairy Queen as a way to branch out. We’re still growing with the Zaxby’s brand and are even looking at other Dairy Queens.”

The local Dairy Queen business began as a walk-up restaurant, and in 1973 the current building was built to welcome customers to dine-in. 

According to the Cheelys, the restaurant sold more food items than any Dairy Queen location nationwide in 1985.

Fernie Etheridge and James Edy made their usual weekly trip from Wilkinson County to the local Dairy Queen for lunch Friday. 

“Back in the day in the 1960s, this was the only good meeting place to meet up with friends,” Edy said as he ordered his favorite hamburger and fries. “I hope this place stays around and continues to give good service.”

The local fast food chain will close in mid-January for a few days to install a new roof, air conditioning system and equipment, and rearrange the kitchen area for improved efficiency.

“The Cheelys remodeled the front of the house, but not the back of the house. There’s equipment that’s 40 years old,” Autry said. “We plan to accept the Bobcat card within the next couple of months. We also want to get involved in the community more with ice cream programs at schools, couponing, catering and spirit nights, where student organizations come in and we’ll give them 10 percent of the sales. We’re also offering a lot of employee incentives through different contests and they get a free blizzard cake on their birthday.”

Autry said the restaurant will show its appreciation to customers in the spring by offering a repeat day where customers have no limit of purchasing food items of their choice and they will receive the same order for free two weeks later.

Dairy Queen is also a national sponsor of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals since 1984, raising more than $97 million during the past 29 years in the United States and Canada.

Located on South Wayne Street, Dairy Queen is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

“There are a lot of old-timers coming in here and it’s just nostalgia for them; it’s pretty neat to see. There’s a lot of history here and a lot of long-term employees,” Autry said. “I’m really happy with our crew and the way business is turning out. Our sales have already increased by 24 percent from last year. I think we’re going to have a great year coming up. The employees are enthusiastic and excited. Happy people serve happy food.”