Veteran Dairy Queen® Franchisee Diversifies Portfolio with DQ Grill & Chill® Restaurants
Veteran Dairy Queen® Franchisee Diversifies Portfolio with DQ Grill & Chill® Restaurants

Longtime treat store operator sees value in DQ brand’s QSR concept; signs to open five DQ Grill & Chill locations in Arizona in upcoming years

While there may be brands that match the Dairy Queen® system’s more than 75 years in the franchising industry, the DQ Brand has others beat when it comes to franchisees that have been around for more than half of its legacy.

Franchisee Steve Cowgur, for example, has maintained a strong relationship with the DQ brand since he answered an ad on a job board in the mid-70s, when a local Orange Julius® store was hiring for an accounting position. He soon took over operations of the location in Arizona. When International Dairy Queen, Inc. bought the Orange Julius system in 1987, he stuck with the new owners.

Thirty-five years later, Cowgur is still with the DQ system and now operates 11 stores in malls and outlet centers across Arizona.

“For us, the mall business has been getting beat out over the last 10 years, due to online shopping,” Cogwur said. “I saw that the future for the DQ business was the DQ Grill & Chill concept.”

The Dairy Queen system prides itself on the loyalty it builds with its fans and its franchisees, which means that as the industry, consumers and business models have changed over the past several decades. However, leadership within the DQ system has maintained a focus on the happiness of consumers and franchisee business partners.

Cowgur and his sons will open both their first and second DQ Grill & Chill locations this year, with three additional locations in development in upcoming years in the Phoenix area, including Chandler and Gilbert.

“It has been an unusual transition to open our first free-standing DQ Grill & Chill location,” Cowgur said. “We were very comfortable in the mall setting, so we have had to stretch our legs a bit to handle the challenges associated with the start-up of a full QSR concept.”

As a member of the brand’s Franchise Advisory Council and with his tenure at the brand, Cowgur said he has seen reliable support from the DQ corporate team during the development process, with elements ranging from construction to employee training. He added that regardless of if a location is a franchisee’s first or 12th, corporate support is matched in value.

“Steve’s willingness to diversify his experience as a brand veteran and open DQ Grill & Chill locations shows that the model is becoming more established and can provide enough value for operators to step outside of a comfort zone in order to be involved with the brand’s future,” said VP of Franchise Sales and Development Mike Mettler.

Launched in 2002, the DQ Grill & Chill concept blends the best of brand’s heritage with the most modern innovation in quick service food and design. The restaurant interior also brings an innovative dimension to the quick-serve restaurant environment. Highlighted by a modern open-air grill, separate “grill” and “chill” sections, the restaurant features comfortable booths and large wooden tables, warm lighting, music and an overall inviting environment. The DQ Grill & Chill concept boasts more variety on its menu, with dozens of core items, including a variety of burgers and chicken sandwiches, alongside the heritage treat side of the business. The brand also incorporated the DQ $5 Buck Lunch all-day value deal and DQ Bakes!® Artisan-style sandwiches, snack melts, and hot desserts à la mode to their offerings.

“Over the past seven or eight years, the DQ system has gained some credence with its food menu and is really becoming a food-centric player in the industry,” Cowgur said. “That helps a lot as we’re launching these first DQ Grill & Chill locations. The brand has always been strong when it came to treats, but processes to support a full food menu continue to grow stronger.”

Individuals looking to open a DQ Grill & Chill restaurant should have equity of $400,000 for a single store, and equity of approximately $2 million to open multiple stores. The investment range, as stated in the DQ Grill & Chill Franchise Disclosure Document, ranges from $1.07 million to $1.83 million, without the cost of leasing or purchasing land.