Sure signs of a Plain City summer
By Fran Odyniec
Just as the Plain City Area Baseball Association, the Fourth of July, the Steam Threshers, the Cruise-In, and the new aquatic center mean summer in Plain City, so does the Eskimo Queen on West Main Street in the village.
Some people still call it the Dairy Queen, but that’s a name this ice cream emporium hasn’t had since 1953. In 1952 it opened as a Dairy Queen. One year later, it became the Eskimo Queen. No matter what you call it, it has become synonymous with summer in Plain City for the last 60 years.
For Dan Bernstein and his wife Christina, it has been a form of deja vu.
Both had spent their formative years in the ice cream business. As a teen-ager, Dan ran ice cream trucks in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where he grew up in Tannersville. Christina’s family still owns a Dairy Queen in Youngstown.
So it seems as though fate brought the Eskimo Queen into their lives five years ago.
“It was for sale,” Dan recalls. “We saw a great opportunity and thought this would be fun.”
Drawing on their customer service experiences from their jobs at Walt Disney World where they first met, they knew from the start that they had to get more out of their investment of $450,000 than just fun.
“When we bought it, it was kind of run down,” Dan said. “It couldn’t run as best as it could.”
Their Disney experience had taught them that if you have a good product, great customer service, and a clean environment, your chances for success increase but not without dedication and hard work.
At the top of their to-do list was the outdated equipment at the Eskimo Queen.
“We stripped it and installed brand new equipment,” Dan said of the stainless steel ice cream and mixing machines, the grill, the walk-in refrigerator and warmer among other improvements. “We went from just vanilla ice cream to 24 flavors.”
Today, the Eskimo Queen offers up 60 different flavors of soft serve ice cream. Beginning with vanilla and chocolate, those flavors include peanut butter, cheese cake, blueberry, peach, maple nut, German chocolate and beyond.
According to Dan, the Reese’s flurry is one of the best sellers while blueberry cheesecake stays at or near the top of the favorite flavor chart.
Some kids like to mix together as many as six different flavors in one cone, which can be easily done with the technology that’s behind the counter.
If you want to take in the entire menu at the Eskimo Queen, be prepared to spend more than just a few minutes scanning the menu boards in the windows at the front counter and along the side of the building. Perhaps that’s a marketing strategy to help build an appetite.
With ice cream and shakes as mainstays, Dan calls the menu, “All the comfort food you could ever want.”
The menu reads like a culinary Gregorian chant: burgers, pizza steak, chicken baskets, shrimp baskets, french fries, fried cauliflower, fried mushrooms, fried cheese sticks, and, of course, hot dogs and brats among others.
Dan admits that certain items like burgers, shakes, and fries have been on the menu since 1953, but the menu has been tweaked to what people like.
The biggest challenge for Dan and Christina is staying competitive in the marketplace.
“People don’t have to come here,” Dan said straightforwardly. “We have to make sure that their experience is a good one. Being in a small town, word gets around fast.”
He feels that certain customers come back to the Eskimo Queen for certain reasons.
“Maybe they met here in the ’50s,” he pondered. “Or maybe they brought their kids here.”
That’s where their customer service experience from Disney World comes into play.
“The heart of our business is the customer,” Dan said. “It starts and ends with the customer.”
He says that the key is to offer a great product with a smile behind it all.
Each day an average of 150 people cue up to the “order here” window for ice cream or comfort food. Some of them use the drive-thru window.
“It peaks on the weekend,” Dan said. “Sunday nights are the busiest.”
From what he has seen, because Sunday night signals the end of the weekend just before getting back to the day-to-day grind, families like to go out for ice cream and shakes.
For that purpose, they can leisurely close out the week end at picnic tables that border the Eskimo Queen’s parking lot.
But Saturday nights are not exactly slow, and Dan wants families to have more fun.
On Saturday evening, July 7, Eskimo Queen will begin showing old Disney cartoons on the back wall of its storage building.
And, in the not too distant future, tethered hot air balloon rides will be added in the interest of fun.
As if that weren’t enough, harking back to his days in the Pocono Mountains, Dan recently bought an ice cream truck that has begun making the rounds on the weekends of the highways and byways in the Plain City area selling what else but ice cream. The truck plays 32 different songs that Dan claims were made for an ice cream truck, and eventually will be on the road seven days a week, weather permitting.
“It’s great for marketing,” claims Dan who makes sure that the driver is a real ice cream man all decked out in white with a clean truck and good product. “This is not a truck with a Sears freezer.”
He plans to run the “ice cream man” truck in parades. It is also available for parties.
Dan and Christina, who hold day jobs as a regional pharmaceutical consultant and a mechanical engineer, respectively, and have two young children, can’t run the Eskimo Queen by themselves. They employ a staff of 15 who keep the “order here” window open seven days a week.
“We have good people in place who represent our best interests,” explained Dan. “If you have the right people, everything else works out.”
That’s not to say that Dan can’t be seen at the Eskimo Queen at 6 a.m. cleaning a machine or at 1 a.m. when an alarm goes off.
“I live it 24/7,” said the lifelong ice cream man who says that he and Christina will jump behind the counter to flip burgers and make ice cream whenever they’re needed. After all, ice cream has followed them to Plain City from the Poconos and Youngstown.
The Eskimo Queen is located at 461 W. Main St., in Plain City; open Monday thru Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon to 10 p.m.; call ahead for orders at (6714) 873-8549.