For the last 55 years, the Statesboro Dairy Queen restaurant has been dishing up Dilly Bars and dip cones to a band of loyal customers. Even though a new restaurant now replaces the old, and the menu has changed since it initially opened in 1953, the descendents of the Husmith Marsh family continue to run one of the most successful Dairy Queen restaurants in the state of Georgia.
Since the new location opened a year and a half ago, the Statesboro DQ has been setting sales records. Bob Bowman is a business consultant with American Dairy Queen, and the Marsh’s restaurant is a part of the territory that he oversees.
“We are very happy that the Marsh family reinvested in Dairy Queen,” Bowman said. “They had outgrown their original restaurant and the building had become outdated. The first year in the new restaurant, their sales were up over 100 percent.”
Bowman said the new building has tremendous appeal and is easy to get in and out of.
“I think it has made a huge difference,” he said. “They are number three in sales in the state of Georgia. The only two Dairy Queens that sell more are in the Atlanta area. We are thrilled with the Statesboro Dairy Queen.”
The original Statesboro Dairy Queen was founded on the corner of Northside Drive and North Main Street in 1953 by Husmith Marsh and Bernard Gay.
“My dad and Mr. Gay opened the DQ across the street from their business, Gay and Marsh Amoco Filling Station,” said Hugh Marsh, Husmith Marsh’s son and general manager of the restaurant. “I’m not really sure why they thought it would be a good business, but they did. The Marsh’s acquired the Gay family’s interest in the restaurant after my dad and Mr. Gay had both passed away.”
Marsh said the original DQ did not have a dining room and only served ice cream and drinks.
“The restaurant had a six window walk up where you could come up and order your ice cream,” he said. “When your order was ready they would call your name or number over the loud speaker.”
Marsh recalls when the DQ did not even have an ice machine. “When they would run out of ice, someone from the restaurant would get on the loud speaker and call across the street asking for someone from the filling station to bring ice over. As you can imagine, it was a pretty simple operation.”
Eventually a dining area and drive-thru window was added to the North Main location. The Marsh family also had a DQ near Georgia Southern’s campus for a number of years.
“We leased the Georgia Southern location and were not able to renew the lease,” Marsh said. “So we had to close that location. Our North Main location has always been our bread and butter.”
Marsh said it wasn’t that difficult of a decision to build the new restaurant on Northside Drive just 100 yards south of the original location.
“DQ had come out with a new design, and allowed us to do some things a little differently,” Marsh said. “It was the right time. The original location was worn out.”
Marsh said he did not want to move the restaurant out towards the Statesboro Mall like so many other restaurants have done.
“I just wanted to build on the customer base that we already had in this area,” he said. “Our family felt that we could do just fine staying here. I am glad that we did.”
Marsh runs the day-to-day with some input from his brother Don Marsh, sister Lisa Marsh Minick, and mother Margaret Marsh.
“Don and I are involved only in the decision making for the store,” Minick said. We meet to discuss financial matters and such, and I also work some in the summer when Hugh is on vacation.”
Hugh Marsh has been in charge of the family business since his father died in 1982.
“I had Marsh Tire Service when dad passed away,” Marsh said. “We wanted to keep the restaurant going, and we all helped as best we could, but I began to spend more and more time down there. So, I decided it was either the restaurant or the tire service. I chose the restaurant.”
Marsh said he is so appreciative that he is making an even bigger effort to reach out to the community. That effort is being spearheaded by his night manager, Lena Kinsey.
“I know that Mr. Marsh really wants to give back to the community, and we are really trying to do that,” Kinsey said. “On Christmas Day we went out to Willow Pond and delivered sundaes. We have youth groups and the like come in and get ice cream at a discount - anything to put smiles on kid’s faces. This is a fun place to eat and to work.”
Minick said the restaurant has always been a part of her family, and she has many fond memories of the original location which was destroyed by a fire in the kitchen area just before the new restaurant was completed.
“I remember the old store on the corner before it even had a dining room,” Minick said. “A lady who worked there used to make dresses for me when I was little. I also, of course, remember the college DQ, and the walk-up windows. I forgot how much I miss those.”