Charlevoix's Dairy Grill succeeds from local business

Audio Clip

For most people, the end of the summer season came a few weeks back with Labor Day, but for folks in Charlevoix, this weekend marks an annual milestone.  

The local ice cream parlor is shutting down, and in what's become a recent tradition, a local philanthropist will pick up the tab for the entire day's purchases.  

Today, the unassuming Dairy Grill is quietly prepping fries and cooking burgers for the big day Sunday.  

This is the Grills'  5th year under a new name and a new local philosophy which has proved to be quite a success.

"Buying local"  has proven to be an important theme in this town .

If you drive by Charlevoix's Dairy Grill and notice that it looks a lot like a Dairy Queen, there's a reason for that.  

This roadside ice cream stand was a DQ for thirty years. But the owners here did something a little different, that bucked the Dairy Queen model. Instead of the DQ-approved hamburgers. This shop offered burgers made from fresh, local beef. That's it.
Every morning we go and get the meat. When you came up just now I was inside making the meat.

But that was enough to bring the corporation knocking on their door. Pat Hayden has been the owner here for 23 years.

Dairy Queen said we couldn't use it any more. This is after 30 years of using that product.  Never had a problem with the board of health or anybody, and they just said all of a sudden that we didn't meet their specifications. No matter what we did.

Hayden said for years he tried to reason with the corporate office. He said his customers liked the fresh burgers. Finally though, he said he was backed into a corner.    

It was either Dairy Queen way or Charlevoix way, and I took Charlevoix over Dairy Queen.

So Hayden said he kept the store, but gave up the franchise.

Dairy Queen became Dairy Grill. One of the first things Hayden and his wife did was head for a thesaurus to rename their trademarked products.

"Uh, lets see, they had uh land mudslide, called it a landslide, and ya know, the biggest thing was their blizzard, we made them avalanches, ya know."

It's been five years since Hayden gave up the franchise. He said it wasn't an easy decision to give up an established name like Dairy Queen. He said he likely could have sold the franchise for what he calls 'a good piece of money.' But in the end, he said he had a business model he liked. And his customers liked. It seems, remaining locally-loyal is the secret to his success. 

"Best year we ever had was the first year we weren't a Dairy Queen. The best year we ever had financially and  product wise moving stuff was the first year we weren't a Dairy Queen.  Do what your customers want. Sometimes it might not be the best thing for you, but in the long run, it would be. If you take care of your customers, they'll take care of you."

Hayden said his customers have been taking care of business for a long time; first for the Dairy Queen and now for the Dairy Grill.

"People will call in their order, and they'll still call and we'll say, "Hello Dairy Grill" and they'll say, "Dairy Queen, I'll always call it Dairy Queen." I say, "I don't care what you call it as long as you keep calling."

The Charlevoix Dairy Grill will shut down for the season this weekend

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