Dairy Boy Drive-Ins were once popular spots all across Oklahoma. Like many other vintage Drive-Ins and restaurants popular in the 1950s, they faded over the years, and today, it appears as if there is only a single location left.
The Dairy Boy Drive-In chain was founded in 1957 by businessmen Harry Atlee and Leonard Hansen, who owned the Hansen-Atlee Dairy in Oklahoma City. The Hansen-Atlee Dairy once offered home milk delivery in the Oklahoma City metro area, promising in newspaper advertisements that its milk was more pure and richer than its competitors. Hansen-Atlee began marketing Dairy Boy franchises to sell its ice cream mix in ten-gallon drums packed in dry ice.
Featuring the mascot of a little boy in overalls carrying an oversized soft-serve ice cream cone, the dairy began selling franchise rights for Dairy Boy restaurants in small towns across the state. By June 1958, there were nine restaurants in Oklahoma City, Midwest City, Clinton, Davenport, Del City, Fairview, Minco, Okarche, and Weatherford. The numbers continued to increase into the 1960s.
“Now you can own a profitable Dairy Boy Drive-In. The soft ice cream business is booming.” — Newspaper Advertisement
One of those franchises was sold to Marvin and Barbara Jirous, one of the state’s first Dairy Boy franchisees. The coupled opened their Dairy Boy on Main Street in Fairview in 1958 in a 25×10-foot prefabricated Valentine Diner building. Valentine Manufacturing Inc. of Wichita, Kansas, made railroad car-shaped buildings used for roadside diners that were once a common site along the old U.S. Route 66. When the couple sold the Fairview restaurant in 1962, there were 165 Dairy Boys in Oklahoma.
Another early franchise was sold to Roy and Dee Ann Burnett in Minco, Oklahoma, who would operate the drive-in for 23 years.
“It was a great business for us — we sold a lot of nickel ice cream cones. Dairy Boy was about the only ice cream shop around the state at that time. There was Dairy Queen, but they would only go into the bigger towns at the time.” — Marvin Jirous
In the early days, all Dairy Boy workers were women who wore bright lipstick and baseball hats decorated in sequins and rhinestones. They surely pleased their customers by serving 2-foot-tall “giant” cones of soft-serve ice cream. The chain also served burgers, sandwiches, chili dogs, fries, and appetizers. The Dairy Boy Drive-ins were hot spots for kids, high schoolers, and families who enjoyed coffee in the mornings, dates, family dinners, and hanging out at a cool spot on the weekends.
In the meantime, the Hansen-Atlee Dairy in Oklahoma City was reorganized in 1969 due to financial difficulties and later closed. Located near SW 18 and Pennsylvania, no visible remnants of the dairy remain in the neighborhood today, a mix of warehouses and modest bungalow housing. It was probably at this time that Dairy Boy franchises ceased to be sold.
In 1983, the Minco, Oklahoma Dairy Boy was sold by Roy Burneet to Bobby and Karen Bratcher. The family operated the Drive-in for the next 39 years until they retired in April 2022. The walk-up burger and ice cream stand on Minco’s main drag was one of the last remnants of the Dairy Boy Drive-In chain that once had restaurants in small towns across Oklahoma. The property at 217 SW 3rd Street was sold the same year, and afterward, the parking lot was filled with heavy equipment vehicles.
The only Dairy Boy left in the Sooner State is at 1003 W Columbia Street in Okemah. It was closed in September 2022 due to owner health issues, but the couple’s daughter, Candy Shira, informed us that she has taken over the location and reopened the Okemah Dariy Boy in May of 2023.
Sadly, time took its toll on this popular chain restaurant. Like many other vintage chains, many were undoubtedly gobbled up by larger franchises such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Dairy Queen, or their prime locations were purchased for other uses, such as gas stations and convenience stores.