Retail Dining Developments

Dairy Queen targets Orlando for a Blizzard of new stores

One of America’s oldest and most beloved fast-food brands is launching a multi-year expansion in Orlando with plans to open as many as 30 new stores by 2025.

Dairy Queen started selling its iconic soft-serve ice cream and burgers in Sanford back in 1954 – years before Walt Disney ever scouted the Orlando area for a new theme park. The company now operates a dozen franchise stores in Central Florida, including one in Leesburg that opened May 3. Another new store is under construction and scheduled to open on Lee Vista Boulevard in October.


Jim Kerr, Executive Vice President of Franchise Development for Dairy Queen, told GrowthSpotter the region’s population growth and demographics make it a ripe for a deeper market penetration, especially in submarkets with significant residential and retail new construction.

“Dairy Queen expands and grows nationally, and then we prioritize and target some markets,” Kerr said. “The Orlando market is very attractive to us and will help us buy into growth opportunities that are there. We’ll be able to attract additional and new franchisees within the market. And there are plenty of gaps.”


Long associated with small-town America, the 80-year-old brand operates stores mostly in Orlando’s outskirts such as Blithlo, St. Cloud and Mount Dora. The brand has 95 percent consumer recognition.

“That’s part of the reason why we have a lot of opportunity in a market like Orlando,” Kerr said. “Across the country, we tend to build in the small towns and outer edges. And now, I’ve been with the company for about 12 years, and I have focused pretty heavily on penetrating the markets like Orlando and others like it.”

The company wants to add at five new stores per year beginning in 2021 and is offering multi-unit franchise packages. The Minneapolis-based company has hired David Bulger as a full time franchise development coordinator based in Orlando to assist with the new store development, market analysis, permitting and opening.

Kerr said the company is looking for standard QSR outparcels with drive-thru lanes to accommodate the 2,500-3,000 square-foot prototype store. “And when the real estate market is right, we’ll look at shopping center end caps with drive-thru and other host buildings that enable us to have the full complement of treats, beverages and cakes,” he said.

A typical store has indoor seating for 66, a large freezer capacity for cakes and take-out items, and a covered patio. The company also offers a smaller prototype with seating for 40-50 customers. The ideal site is close to high-growth residential, schools and employers where the store can also capture a significant lunchtime food business.

“The one feature we have that most QSRs do not have is a patio,” Kerr said. “Because our parents and kids and sports teams, those different events, they love to go outside and utilize the patio.”

Dairy Queen is introducing a new, streamlined “Grill & Chill” prototype concept this year that eliminates the stacked stone exterior and tones down the color palette. Dairy Queen was founded in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois and introduced its first banana split in 1951. Now wholly owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the American Dairy Queen Corporation operates over 4,500 stores in the U.S.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.