Dairy Queen plans to open 30 to 35 more stores in the Chicago area within the next five years, with room for up to 50, targeting primarily locations in the city and suburban Lake and Cook counties.
The ice cream and burger chain, which has about 145 restaurants in the metro area, hopes to start opening the next round in the first half of 2017, said Jim Kerr, the company’s vice president of U.S. franchise development.
“Our products appeal there, we just need to be more convenient to a lot more people,” Kerr said. “Our interest in Cook and Lake is because of the density, and much of the area is just not served by our current footprint.”
While some of the expansion will come via two current franchisees, Dairy Queen is seeking new partners and scouting real estate here, he said.
It has yet to identify any locations for its new stores, though Kerr said there’s demand for Dairy Queen in suburbs like Oak Park, Evanston and Rosemont, as well as in several neighborhoods in the city.
Dairy Queen, a 75-year-old chain founded in Joliet and now based in Edina, Minn., has 269 stores in Illinois, making it among the top franchised restaurants in the state. Owned today by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, the chain for much of its history was known primarily as a frozen treats shop, with desserts like Dilly Bars, Mr. Mistys and ice cream cones.
For the last decade, its primary growth vehicle has been its Grill & Chill stores, an updated version of a traditional DQ that combines its heritage treats business with fast-food items such as burgers, chicken strips and hot dogs.
Today just over a third of its 6,700 global restaurants are Grill & Chill stores, including about 20 in the Chicago area. Each of its planned stores here will open under that banner.
“We’ve undertaken a very aggressive modernization and reinvestment in the brand,” Kerr said. “Growth has been pretty brisk for us, and it’s because we are able to appeal to more people across more (of the day) versus other chains.”
Berkshire does not disclose revenue or income for Dairy Queen.
Among local competitors, perhaps the closest analogue is Culver’s, which plans to open its first Chicago restaurant in 2017. The Sauk City, Wis.-based chain has 94 burger-and-custard shops in the state, most of which are spread throughout the suburbs, including Berwyn and Morton Grove.