Closing of Westmoreland Dairy Queen ends an era
When the Westmoreland Dairy Queen closed, after its last day of operation on Monday, September 30, accessible family fast food disappeared in Westmoreland and Sellwood. No longer would middle and high school students, in one of their first jobs, be serving classic banana splits, Scrumpdillyishus Mr. Mistys, or signature chocolate Dilly Bars. The Westmoreland restaurant and ice cream store that served the cone with the curl on the top for 50 years has closed, and another icon of the neighborhood has disappeared. Its fixtures are for sale.
How did it begin? In 1969, there was excitement in Westmoreland; a Dairy Queen store would be opening at the corner of S.E. Tolman Street and Milwaukie Avenue. The nearest ice cream shops back then were the Division Big Top Ice Cream store, at 33rd and Division and Lee and Al's 24 Flavors, on Woodstock Boulevard (today, Cloud City Ice Cream is still right there at Woodstock and 45th).
Those living in Sellwood got their true first taste of machine-served ice cream at the A and W Drive-In at S.E. 17th and Tenino Street (later home to Mike's Drive-In, before its recent sale for an apartment development). A & W was noted for its root beer and burger meals – the Papa and Mama Burgers for parents, the Teen Burger for young folks, and Baby Burger for tots and senior citizens who couldn't eat full portions.
During the 1960s and 70s, Portland saw an increase in ice cream franchises and fast food drive-Ins. Consumers began lining up along the sidewalks to taste wonderful cool treats like Tastee- Freeze, although most of their stores first opened on the West Side of the Willamette. Those living in Inner Southeast got their first taste of Tastee-Freeze soft-serve ice cream at the corner of Kelly Street and S.E. Milwaukie. Tastee-Freeze buildings featured a classic "A frame" roof structure that can still be spotted in a few buildings around town. "Pok Pok" in the Brooklyn neighborhood, on Milwaukie Avenue just south of Powell, occupies one of the old Tastee-Freeze buildings.
Paul and Theodore Arter introduced Portland's first Dairy Queen in 1959. Their small whitewashed building provided walk up service for customers at N.E. 32nd and Broadway, a busy intersection not far from Grant High School.
The Arters were so successful that they opened two more D.Q.s – one at N.E. 53rd and Sandy Boulevard, and their biggest moneymaker at 122nd and San Rafael, where a new community was being constructed in the Parkrose district. Soon, other Dairy Queens began showing up around the city; those in Inner Southeast included Division Street D.Q. north of Franklin High School, and Duke Street's D.Q. in Brentwood-Darlington at S.E. 59th and Duke. Both those Dairy Queens remain open today.
As for the Westmoreland Dairy Queen – it replaced a Texaco Service Station which was run by Ron Williams, who stayed on to manage the store when Dairy Queen first opened. Gerold Martinson, who worked at the deliciously fragrant Ruth Ashbrook Bakery across the street (where Northwest Primary Care now is), is among the many residents who remember the D.Q. as a walk-up store with limited parking. Most of the indoor dining area and the drive-thru were added later. Like other Dairy Queens, it was painted an ice cream white, with a red roof, and had large glass plate windows placed around the front and sides of the building. (The glass windows were a marketing tool, to allow those passing by to peer into the store and wonder why there were crowds of people lined up inside.)
Only a handful of products introduced by the Dairy Queen corporate office in Minnesota were required of every store. After that, owners could decide what additional novelties and ice cream creations they wanted to add to boost their sales. In the early days, Dilly Bars, Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Peanut Buster Bars were made by hand in the stores during lag times. The process was simple, and kept ingredients fresher. As Dairy Queens updated through the years, Ice Cream Sandwiches and Dilly Bars were made centrally by machine in a factory and shipped to the stores in bulk.
Take my word for it, the Dilly Bars handmade in the stores were always the best. Employees swirled the soft serve from the spigot onto a square waxed piece of paper. A wooden tongue depressor was slipped into the side, and then a packet of vanilla Dilly Bars was set in the freezer to harden. After they were ready, the waxed paper was stripped from the bars and each was dipped in a flavored coating – usually the flavors were chocolate, strawberry, and butterscotch – and then the bars were placed on a flat cookie sheet which went into the freezer. Once frozen, they were placed in a Dairy Queen sleeve, ready for sale to the customer.
Ice cream sandwiches were easier. Ice cream was placed between two chocolate wafers, and placed in the freezer until ready to serve. Peanut Buster Bars were more time-consuming; the counter clerk placed a small portion of Spanish nuts and hot fudge into the bottom of a plastic cup, then added ice cream, more hot fudge, and topped it all off with more ice cream, with a lollipop stick in the middle. The Dilly Bars and Peanut Buster Bars were a customer favorite, because they couldn't be found at grocery stores.
It took a lot of training and patience for new waitstaff to learn how to make a cone with a swirl on the top, mix a milk shake without punching a hole in the bottom of the serving cup, or perfect the art of layering ice cream along the side of a cup and adding root beer to make the floats that customers demanded in the summer time.
Besides waiting on customers, there was mopping the floors, cleaning the French-fryer and grill after closing time, and usually the young ladies had to polish the top of the ice cream topping containers ever night. It seemed a hardship for teenagers, who wanted to leave and party with friends, to stay those extra minutes after a store closed and get all the cleaning duties done. But it was a good introduction to the world of employment.
The Flavors of sundae toppings also changed over the years. Dairy Queens today no longer serve Butter Pecan, Blueberry topping or the green syrup of Creme DeMenthe, though Mike Canavatta Jr, who was the manager at the Westmoreland store, remembered that that a mint concoction was combined with vanilla ice cream in the Blizzards.
In 1979 Barbara Bowers bought the Westmoreland Dairy Queen, and ran it with her husband Al, until about 1997 when Mike Caravatta and his wife Hyum Lim became the new owners. Many people who lived in the area might still remember Hyum Lim serving customers over the counter, helping the cook back in the kitchen, stocking napkins and condiments in the lobby, and wiping down counters and tables. Within a few years Mike's son, Mike Caravatta, Jr., was asked to help out at the store, and he quickly became the Store Manager and ran day-to-day operations.
Young Mike remembers waiting on grandparents who had ferequented the store back when they were young, now bringing in their grandchildren to partake of the experience they'd had when they bought their first ice cream treat there. Located just a few blocks west on Tolman Street, the Llewellyn Elementary School's students were escorted across Milwaukie Avenue by the Safety Patrol – where the next stop would be at the Dairy Queen.
Mike greeted the many workers who stopped by once a week for lunch, and the regular customers who came in to order a burger or ice cream specialty whenever they passed by the store.
And of course, with the expanded seating that accompanied the drive-thru upgrade, the dining room became a meeting-place for seniors wanting a simple chocolate or vanilla cone. New products like the Blizzards were introduced – which might contain pieces of a Snickers bar, or ingredients that might otherwise go into making a banana split: Basically, candy and ice cream. During Hallowe'en the store often offered pumpkin-pie Blizzards – or peppermint, during the Christmas Season. Whatever flavor they were, they were good and thick, because franchisees were required to have their servers turn the Blizzard upside down before presenting it, to show to the customer how thick it was.
In later years, Dairy Queens added Brazier menu items – a hot food menu to complement the ice cream treats. Early D.Q's had offered a broiler burger that was flamed-broiled on a grill from the top and bottom at the same time. Later, under the Brazier banner, they served charbroiled hamburgers that tasted as if they'd just come off a backyard grill.
Mike Cavaratta now reflects that he will miss all the people he trained, and the time he spent with many students from Sellwood Middle School and Cleveland High who turned to the Westmoreland D.Q. for their first job. Sisters followed sisters in working at the counter, as did brothers who wanted to work there after their sister got hired. Even cousins of past relatives were hired to wait on customers, make cones, or flip hamburgers on the grill.
During the 1960s and 70s, Westmoreland was mainly a blue-collar neighborhood, and it wasn't unusual for the same families to return every weekend for their favorite after-dinner treat. When visitors came to town for the Holidays or on vacation, a trip to the Dairy Queen was included. The second graders at Llwelleyn Elementary School made an annual field trip over to the D.Q. to the see how the person behind the counter made the special dipped ice cream cones.
Mike fondly remembers a couple who first met each other while working the counter at his Dairy Queen, and later married. And there was Ray, a professional Golfer in Eastmoreland, who continued visiting the store regularly ever since he was a student.In the early 1970s, the Westmoreland Dairy Queen sponsored many baseball and Pop Warner football teams, and the store's lobby was packed with ballplayers after the game. The shop donated gift certificates to most of the schools, to events in the neighborhood, and every Sundae in the Park prize drawing for forty years, in Sellwood Park, on the first Sunday in August.
Over the past ten years the neighborhood has changed considerably, as business professionals and upscale residents moved in and replaced the previous generation. Mike said he will miss the father and son who lived here in the 1980s and stopped by at least once a week; and he'll miss the Thursdays, when grandparents and grandkids seemed to gather for a good time.Mike isn't sure what he will do, now that he doesn't have to manage the counter or train new employees – but he may take a trip outside the United States, or perhaps just take a vacation. He concludes our conversation by saying that he will always remember his chats with Esperanza, the cook at the Westmoreland D.Q. for 22 years; all the members of the waitstaff over the years, who worked well together as a team; and of course he'll remember all the customers he waited on over the decades.
That probably includes you, as it does me.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.