By LESLIE COLLINS
April 3, 2013
For five years, Northeast resident Brett Williams prayed about purchasing the Dairy Queen building on Independence Avenue. The building wasn’t simply a building – it represented family traditions, community spirit.
Inside that building, friendships blossomed and patrons referred to owners Esther and John McMurray as “Mom” and “Pop.” For 14 years Esther worked at the Dairy Queen before purchasing the business with her husband, John, in 1980. Area residents still recall her signature hairstyle: a towering beehive. In 2009, then-Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser honored the couple with a proclamation for their years of dedication to the business and to Northeast.
“As I’ve seen the tradition that John and Esther (McMurray) started, I’m like man, there is something about this spot that is the Northeast community. It’s an anchor, it’s a pillar here,” Williams said. “Really I just want to do it justice. I just want to continue it on really.”
Over the years, individuals dropped off business cards offering to purchase the building, but the McMurrays declined. Finally, in 2011, the couple retired and gave Williams first dibs on purchasing the building. The Dairy Queen sign has been removed, but the building’s exterior still resembles the iconic Dairy Queen.
Williams renamed the business “Dairy Barn,” which officially opened in February and now serves pizza and ice cream.
“They (the McMurrays) didn’t want it to become a smoke shop,” he said. “With the ice cream I’m keeping my word.”
He’s keeping it a community spot, he said.
As Williams talked to Northeast News, an older customer walked in.
“So, they finally retired, huh? I’ve been coming here since I was 10 years old,” the man said.
“Almost every day someone asks about Esther,” Williams told Northeast News. “They ask in the manner of, ‘How’s mom doing?’ It just tells me the type of woman she was and is. She was a pillar in the community. She built a lot of relationships, she listened and loved a lot of people here. You can just hear it in the way they talk about her.”
Williams, who grew up in the Kansas City area, coaches wrestling at the non-profit Della Lamb Community Services and owns a construction company. His 21-year wrestling career is evident in his sturdy build and he keeps his head shaved close – a stark difference between Esther’s beehive.
Although he’s never owned a restaurant before, he grew up around his family members’ restaurants.
“I’ve helped out and been around it a lot. I’ve just never operated one on my own. But, I’ve always been a food connoisseur,” he said with a laugh.
Inside the building, there’s a new paint scheme of gray and green and newspaper clippings no longer plaster the plexiglass wall. Bar seating is available along the front window, giving patrons an unobstructed view of Independence Avenue. A chalkboard menu shows the options, which include stone oven baked pizza by the slice or whole pizzas, soft drinks and of course, ice cream. Currently, Williams offers only vanilla, but you can order dipped cones, sundaes, milkshakes and Storms, a.k.a. Blizzards. You can also choose between a cherry, orange or lemon-lime slushie.
Williams’ ice cream brand ranks right up there with Dairy Queen’s, he said. And this editor agrees.
“It’s the good stuff,” he said of the local ice cream brand. “Everybody’s liked it.”
This spring, Williams wants to repaint the exterior, repair the soffits and other woodwork and install bicycle racks. Eventually, he’d also like to resurface the parking lot, install new flooring and add solar panels to become energy efficient.
Part of the proceeds from Dairy Barn will go toward several non-profit organizations, including Della Lamb wrestling to purchase equipment and cover the cost of tournaments and associated expenses, and sponsoring a Girls on the Run Team, which integrates running with inspiring girls to be healthy, confident and joyful. Williams also wants to fund the non-profit he and his wife, Janell, founded called 3N1. 3N1 is geared toward youth, and one of the programs Williams wants to establish is a youth financial services program to teach youth about budgeting and making smart financial decisions.
“We want to dump resources back here into our community however we can,” Williams said. “I want to help change the face of Northeast.”
Dairy Barn Hours
Tues-Thurs: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Fri-Sat: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sun: noon to 8 p.m.
2365 Independence Ave., Kansas City, Mo.