UAE residents have fond memories of Dairy Queen

Many greeted the news of a return of the franchise with nostalgia.

ABU DHABI // If you grew up in Abu Dhabi in the early 1980s, you’re sure to have memories of sharing strawberry sundaes or banana splits with friends at the Dairy Queen.

Now the US-owned fast-food chain has announced plans to return to the UAE – much to the delight of residents. The first franchise ice cream parlour in the city was popular with Emiratis and expatriates alike, offering a taste of western-style treats instead of more traditional Arabic or South Asian desserts.

News that Berkshire Hathaway-owned Dairy Queen is re-opening in the UAE after a short absence came as a pleasant surprise to many who had often wondered why it shut down in the first place.

“One of my earliest and fondest memories was going to Dairy Queen with my cousin,” said Emirati Faisal Abdullah, 39.

“It was my first time at a fast-food restaurant because it was considered taboo at the time. My father thought that only poor people who didn’t have food at home ate outside and it was embarrassing to be seen at one at the time.

“He never thought that he would see the day when almost everyone ate at fast-food restaurants.”

During the 1970s and 1980s small tea and kitchen shops dominated the landscape, catering to Asian labourers. “I was fascinated by the chocolate-dipped cone and seeing the chocolate harden around the ice cream,” Mr Abdullah said.

When he asked to go back, he was told that it had been replaced by a “cheap rip-off”. “I was so disappointed that it was replaced by Burger Queen and didn’t understand why they would start selling burgers instead of ice cream,” he said.

Burger Queen later became one of the most popular burger joints in Abu Dhabi and developed a large fan base among residents who missed the Dairy Queen era.

Umm Abdulla, a 65-year-old originally from Portugal, came to the UAE in the 1970s after marrying an Emirati.

“We used to hold kids’ parties at Dairy Queen. It was forever booked. The food was good and ice cream was great.”

Hamadi Aslan, a 40-year-old Jordanian, said he remembers Dairy Queen well.

“The pineapple Blizzard was the best. I’ll never forget how that every time I bought a Blizzard, they would hold it upside down with the spoon inside to show off its richness and thickness versus the runny stuff at Wendy’s and other places,” he said.

Blizzards were introduced in the mid-1980s, replacing the usual thick milkshakes.

Alex Sanders, 44, from the UK, came to the capital in 1976. He said Dairy Queen was the place to go at the time.

“Having an ice cream from Dairy Queen and walking on the Corniche was all the fun you could get in Abu Dhabi at the time. It couldn’t get any better,” he said.

Mr Sanders was nine at the time and Dairy Queen was his first fast-food experience.

“It was awesome. It was the first time I had a cheeseburger. It’s an experience that I’ve never forgotten.

“It was such a treat, and at the time we didn’t know how unhealthy having a cheeseburger and a Coke was – it was a treat for us.”

The restaurant chain has signed a franchise deal to open as many as 20 outlets. The first is due to open in the first quarter of next year, but the location is undecided.

In a statement, Brad Houser, Dairy Queen’s vice president of international development, said: “The last Dairy Queen location in the UAE was closed in 2010.

The franchisee who had the development rights for Dairy Queen in the UAE decided to consolidate their business operations into other countries in the Middle East and decided to not continue the Dairy Queen business as well as other business holdings they had.

“The end of the agreement was amicable, which allowed International Dairy Queen, Inc, to pursue other franchisee groups interested in developing the brand in the UAE.”

salnuwais@thenational.ae

Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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