Long, long ago, before Dunkin Donuts, before Pizza Hut, even before McDonalds, there was Dairy Queen. The first Dairy Queen, now known as DQ, opened in 1940 in Joliet, Ill and today the iconic soft-serve ice cream chain has some 5,700 locations in 19 countries. One of those locations is in Atlantic City's Lower Chelsea section.
"It opened up in the 1950s," says Anthony Russo, who owns the DQ on the corner of Ventnor and Harrisburg avenues with his wife, Maria. "I consider it an historic building."
Anthony, 59, grew up in South Philadelphia but remembers visiting the Atlantic City Dairy Queen when he vacationed at the Jersey Shore.
"When I was 16 and first got my license I used to drive down the shore every weekend and hit the arcades," he recalls. "My uncle had a houseboat in Longport that we used to sleep on. Me and my friends would drive up and down the strip and stop at Dairy Queen."
Anthony would eventually move to Atlantic City, where he operated an auto repair shop at Annapolis and Venice avenues. He bought the Dairy Queen, located just down the street, in 1999, almost by accident.
"I was driving into work one day and saw the 'for sale' on the roof," he says. "I called the owner, Charlie Maxwell, who was one of my customers, and asked him for a price."
Before he knew it, Anthony was the proud new owner, just the third owner since it opened, of a Dairy Queen franchise. And for the past 13 years he and Maria, who currently live in Egg Harbor Township, have served up countless thousands of ice cream cones, Dilly Bars, shakes, Blizzards, hot dogs and banana splits.
The distinctive barnlike structure with a bright red roof looks much as it did in the 1950s.
"Pretty much everything is original," Anthony says. "I upgraded the counters but that's about it."
The DQ, which is located on a 50-by-95 foot corner lot, offers walk-up window service only - there is no indoor or outdoor seating. But there are 14 off-street parking spaces on site, a rarity in Atlantic City. It's a seasonal business. Anthony usually opens his doors in March or April and closes down in October or November, depending on the weather.
Anthony works days and Maria, who works days for the state Division of Motor Vehicles at the Shore Mall, takes over when she gets off work.
"We have some friends who will kick in and give us a break," Anthony says.
The building includes restrooms, a stock room and a second floor storage area.
Anthony didn't want to sell the Dairy Queen. He wanted to leave it to his children, who range in age from 4 to 32. But that's not going to happen.
"We bought it for the kids but they don't want it," he says. "Can you believe it? I have two kids from my first wife, two from my current wife and one from an in-between wife and none of them want it. That's a disappointment."
With no family to leave the business to, Anthony and Maria, an Atlantic City native, have little choice but to sell, particularly in light of Anthony's recent health problems.
"I had a heart attack four years ago and now I have full blown arthritis," Anthony says. "Right now I'm pretty much just a Mr. Mom for our kids, who are 6 and 4. I know my wife would love to move to Florida. We're going to sell it and simplify our lives."
Anthony says the Dairy Queen franchise is included in the sales price but the next owner might choose to redevelop the property.
The real estate is worth more than the franchise," he says. "The franchise is a gift."
For more information on this property, which is listed for $749,000 call Jo Ann Daly of Re/Max Platinum Properties. 609-513-8969.
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