A Moorhead, MN Staple
The Moorhead Dairy Queen was opened in 1949 by Bob and Phyllis Litherland as one of the original stores in the Dairy Queen system. Bob and Phyllis combined their passion for ice cream and handmade treats with their love for the city of Moorhead, MN and her people. Over the years, the Litherlands created a myriad of dishes made from fresh ingredients, which their loyal patrons were more than happy to test out. They perfected some of these recipes and made them a permanent part of their menu; and, with a nod to adventure and good humor, others were laid to rest.
Bob and Phyllis’ Story
Robert “Bob” Litherland was born in June of 1922. The Great Depression hit when he was 7 years old. Bob was on a vacation with his parents in California when the stock market crashed, taking the family funds with it. It took the family 3 months to work their way home to Minnesota. This experience left a mark on Bob, and he forever understood the value of a dollar, the privilege of working, and the honor of providing for his family.
Phyllis Chilcott was born in Oklahoma in November of 1927. One of her college classmates invited Phyllis to come north to the Minnesota lake country during a school break. This is when Phyllis and Bob met. They married in June of 1948. They were searching out ideas on how to use a piece of property in downtown Moorhead, MN, which they had purchased during the war. They noticed the long lines in front of Fargo-Moorhead’s first Dairy Queen, which had opened near Fargo’s Island Park in 1948. Taking a leap of faith, they purchased the franchise for Moorhead and began planning to open for business in 1949.
When the equipment arrived, the truck driver refused to unload it until he had payment. The Litherlands had a verbal agreement with a Moorhead bank to borrow the money. When they went to pick up the check, the banker laughed and said, “Oh, I was just kidding when I said we’d make the loan. That’s just a fly-by-night business.” The Litherlands walked out of that bank, crossed the street, and walked into American State Bank (currently known as Bell Bank) and, in a half an hour, they had their check! They opened the Moorhead Dairy Queen for business in August of 1949.
In the early years, the Litherlands lived in the back room of the Dairy Queen to help make ends meet. In 1951, Bob, a veteran of World War II, was recalled to active duty during the Korean Crisis. During Bob’s time away, Phyllis ran the Dairy Queen while raising their newborn daughter. Phyllis and baby daughter, Sue, were taken in by the Carl and Ruth Anderson family of Fargo. Even though the Anderson’s did not know Phyllis at that time, they welcomed her and her new baby daughter into their home until Bob returned from war. After the war, Bob and Phyllis continued to work side by side on the business.
The Moorhead Dairy Queen’s thriving seasonal business, combined with raising 4 daughters, left little time for anything else, yet Phyllis served on various city boards and task forces. The Dairy Queen nearly came to its demise in the 1970s, when the City of Moorhead wanted to take the business and property by eminent domain to build an Eighth Street railroad underpass. Phyllis became a constant presence at city council meetings, protesting the low buyout price. She eventually prevailed. Through it all, Phyllis remained on friendly terms with the opposing city planner.
In the early 1980s, Phyllis returned to school to partake in computer science and women’s studies classes at Moorhead State University (currently known as Minnesota State University Moorhead). Throughout her adult life, she immersed herself in the philanthropic mission of education for women. Phyllis served as a P.E.O. state officer and president of the Minnesota state Chapter in 1987.
Bob truly loved the Moorhead Dairy Queen. He was known for his sense of humor, his showmanship, and his match-making abilities! It was not uncommon for him to get conversations going between customers waiting in line for their treats! Bob, a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division, was an avid student of history, which included working with the Clay County Historical Society. He enjoyed reading the Fargo Forum from cover to cover every day, took pride in many handyman projects, and enjoyed shopping for a bargain.
Bob and Phyllis retired in 1995, when they sold the business to Troy and Diane DeLeon. After retirement, Bob continued to occasionally come into the store to make Dilly Bars and make sure the transition went smoothly. The Litherlands were an incredible team and wonderful mentors to many.
70 years after Bob and Phyllis opened the Moorhead Dairy Queen, it continues to be a local favorite. The Litherlands’ willingness to take a leap of faith, their hard work, perseverance, and dedication to our community will not be forgotten. Not too bad for a “fly-by-night” business!
Bob passed away in November of 2013 and Phyllis in August of 2018. Their spirit and traditions continue to live on at the Moorhead Dairy Queen.
Passing the Torch
Continuing the Legacy
In 1995, rather than closing the doors upon their retirement, the Litherlands opted to sell the Historic Moorhead Dairy Queen to Troy and Diane DeLeon, in order that the local landmark might endure. Following a period of rigorous training, the Litherlands’ secret recipes and techniques were entrusted to the new owners, and the Moorhead Dairy Queen lives on.
With the knowledge of great food, appreciation for their customers, and a sense of adventure imparted to them by Phyllis and Bob, the DeLeons are proud to continue the custom of opening Dairy Queen’s walkup window for the season every March 1st. Regardless of the weather in Moorhead that day, smiles are being served under the world’s largest Dilly Bar at the corner of 8th Street and Main Avenue!
– Troy and Diane DeLeon
Troy and Diane’s Story
Troy DeLeon and Diane Hanson grew up in southern Minnesota. Even though their home towns were just an hour apart, they did not meet until they were 19 years old. They married in 1983 and made Fargo-Moorhead their home. For the first 12 years of marriage, Troy was a jeweler by trade and worked in sales at a downtown Fargo jewelry store and Diane was a medical laboratory technician and worked at a local clinic.
1995 was certainly a memorable year for the DeLeon’s. Diane had never purchased a Dairy Queen cake, but that year she decided to buy one for her mom’s 73rd birthday celebration on January 1st. That is how their year began. At that time they had two children, Olivia was 4 years old and Anthony was 1 year old. Madeline came along a little later in 1997. It was a busy time in their household.
Troy and Diane had each spent nearly 15 years in their careers, and they were ready for a change. In pursuit of a different career path, they went to the Small Business Administration in Fargo to seek counseling on possibly owning a business. They were matched up with Mr. Clint Stacy, who was a volunteer mentor with SCORE. Clint knew that Bob and Phyllis Litherland, the founders of the Moorhead Dairy Queen, were looking to retire. Even though Troy and Diane had a few business ideas of their own, they knew the chance to purchase the iconic Moorhead Dairy Queen was a once in a life time opportunity. Clint contacted the Litherlands and set up a time to meet.
After meeting with the Litherland’s in February of 1995, Troy and Diane began training at the store in March. Bob and Phyllis wanted the DeLeon’s to work in the store to experience everything involved with the day to day operations. They wanted to make sure they found the right couple to carry on their Moorhead Dairy Queen legacy and understand the importance of this landmark in the community. The training involved learning how to make all the products, old fashion customer service with a smile, property and equipment maintenance, inventory and ordering products, hiring, scheduling, managing coworkers and much, much more. It was a lot to take in, almost overwhelming. After a few months had passed, the two couples agreed on the terms of the sale of the business.
As the time to sign the contracts for the sale of the store came closer, Diane started to have cold feet. She was concerned how they could support their young family on an 8 month income. Troy’s decision to purchase the Moorhead Dairy Queen never wavered. God had been continuously sending signs that this journey was meant to be. It actually began many years earlier, when Diane was a kid, playing with plastic Dairy Queen dishes and spoons in her sandbox. She never dreamt in her wildest dreams that one day she would own a Dairy Queen store. That year had started with a first time purchase of a Dairy Queen cake. Coca Cola products were sold in the store and the DeLeon’s collect Coca Cola memorabilia. The franchise transfer papers came in the mail on June 14th, 1995, 46 years to the date that the Litherland’s signed their original franchise agreement on June 14th, 1949. Bob and Phyllis had opened the store in August of 1949 and the DeLeon’s were supposed to take ownership in August of 1995. The Devine intervention that really got Troy and Diane’s attention was a church sermon the Sunday before they were to sign the contracts. The message was about taking a leap of faith and choosing faith over fear. This rang true, not only for the DeLeon’s but also for the Litherlands. On August 1st, 1995, after 46 years of ownership, Bob and Phyllis Litherland sold the Moorhead Dairy Queen to Troy and Diane DeLeon. God’s plan and perfect timing brought strangers together, and their willingness to all take a leap of faith made it possible for the nostalgia and traditions of the Moorhead Dairy Queen to stand the test of time.
Moorhead Dairy Queen Fun Facts
Bob and Phyllis Litherland took a leap of faith and opened the Moorhead Dairy Queen on August 1st, 1949!
Two young brothers from Stillwater, MN who were sons of a Minneapolis ice cream distributor came to the Moorhead Dairy Queen. They had been toying with a soft serve product they wanted to make. Bob Litherland watched as the brothers blobbed Dairy Queen soft serve on a wax paper and put a medical tongue depressor stick into the soft serve. After freezing the treat and coating it in chocolate, one brother held the creation up and said, “Now, isn’t that a dilly!” The Moorhead Dairy Queen still hand makes and hand dips “Dilly Bars,” selling thousands of them each year!
“Mr. Misty Slush” drinks were added to our menu.
In 1968, Dairy Queen introduced the “Buster Bar.” The Moorhead Dairy Queen continues to hand make these treats today!
The “Peanut Buster Parfait” premiers with huge success! This remains one of our most popular Royal Treats!
“We Treat You Right” campaign began.
The original Blizzard was introduced to our menu and has been a favorite treat ever since!
Non-fat, No Sugar Added items were added to our menu. We offer Non-fat, NSA Fudge Bars and Vanilla Orange Bars. We also offer NSA Chocolate Dilly Bars.
In the spring of 1995, Troy and Diane DeLeon began working at the Moorhead Dairy Queen and took a leap of faith and became the second owners of this iconic store on August 1st, 1995.
In 1998, the Moorhead Dairy Queen began selling delicious fresh, handmade, custom decorated ice cream cakes. The DeLeon’s hand make and decorate more than 2,000 cakes each Dairy Queen season.
Summer of 2001 we celebrated the “Sweet 16th” birthday of the Dairy Queen Blizzard.
March 1st, 2014 was the coldest opening day in the history of the Moorhead Dairy Queen. The high temperature of the day was -11 and even colder with the wind chill! The news story of our opening for the season was reported on many television stations though out the United States! Our loyal customers made it a fun and successful opening day for our 65th season!
The Moorhead Dairy Queen was featured in the Canadian travel show, “Motor Head Traveler.”
Hot desserts a’ la Mode were added to our menu.
Media attention in 2015 demonstrated the interest that people have in our store’s nostalgia and tradition. The Moorhead Dairy Queen was featured in “Sensible Eats Food Blog,” an Associated Press story that was featured in prestigious newspapers all over the United States,(Chicago Sun Times, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, New York Post, Washington Times), radio programs across United States and Canada and appearances on NBC National Nightly News and The Today Show, with journalist Harry Smith.
In May of 2017, the Historic Moorhead Dairy Queen received the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber Choice Small Business of the Year Award.
August 25th, 2017 the long awaited “World’s Largest” Dilly Bar was delivered and installed on our patio! It is a very popular photo opportunity!
August 31st, 2017 was “Stanley Cup Day” for the public viewing for the city of Moorhead! Thank you to Matt Cullen for taking time out of his busy schedule to bring the Stanley Cup and 3,000 of his fans with him to the Moorhead Dairy Queen! This event was covered by our local news media and FOX Sports North. Stanley Cup Day at the Moorhead Dairy Queen will always be one of our best memories.
We are incredibly grateful for the press we have had this year. Minnesota Monthly Magazine featured us in “Best Shops for Minnesotans To Get Their Summer Ice Cream Fix.” Fargo Monthly Magazine selected our “Banana Supreme” as one of the top 5 things to eat in Fargo/Moorhead! The Extra Newspaper reported on our annual “Miracle Treat Fundraiser” for our local Sanford Children’s Hospital. We were also featured in the travel section of “The Washington Post” this summer. They received a unanimous recommendation by locals to enjoy a treat at the Moorhead Dairy Queen!
We celebrated the start of our 70th year in business with Moorhead’s Mayor Jonathon Judd reading an official proclamation declaring March 1st Moorhead Dairy Queen Day! Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and his team came to the Moorhead Dairy Queen to learn how to dip Dilly Bars!
For the first time ever in 71 years of business, the Moorhead Dairy Queen had two opening days! We opened for our 2020 season and celebrated Moorhead Dairy Queen Day on March 1st. We had just two weeks of business under our belt when a pandemic struck our country. We decided to temporarily close for the safety of our coworkers and customers. We took six weeks to obtain personal protective equipment for our team and implement extra precautions and safety measures. We reopened for business on May 1st!
This season we added some fun photo opportunities to our outdoor space! Take a picture on the bench with our adorable “Curly the Cow” or pose with our nostalgic Dairy Maiden from 1962!
It was a long winter and spring finally showed up in May! We took the extra time to plan out some new landscaping and our coworkers demonstrated their artistic abilities by painting decorative rocks for our new rock garden! WDAY brought smiles to our patio in July with a live news cast to help us promote and celebrate our annual Miracle Treat Day! It was a huge success! The end of September we had a lot of fun with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, his team and local leaders when they visited our store and participated in a cone making competition! They quickly realized that it isn’t as easy as our coworkers make it look, but they did a great job!
24 S. 8th Street
Moorhead, MN 56560
March 1st - End of October
Mon - Sun 10:00AM – 10:00PM
Closed on Easter Sunday & 4th of July
© Moorhead Dairy Queen. Website by Arvig Media