Family has owned Red Deer’s Dairy Queen for half a century

For half a century, a Hamill has been slinging sundaes in Red Deer.

Gordon was the first to roll up his sleeves and start dishing up ice cream in Red Deer in 1967, when he bought the downtown Dairy Queen.

A third generation is now involved in the frozen treat trade through their four local stores.

Rob Hamill said his father was working in a bank in Estevan, Sask., when the sweet smell of ice cream proved an irresistible lure.

“The first Dairy Queen in Canada opened in Estevan right next door to the bank,” he said. “He fell in love with the products.”

So, instead of joining his family’s oilfield trucking business, Gordon went into the ice cream business.

He opened and operated his first two stores in Medicine Hat from 1963 until the Red Deer store came up for sale.

Hamill said that first store was just north of the downtown location below the hospital at 4202 Gaetz Ave.

“It was a little walk-up, two-window ice cream store,” he says.

A full-size Dairy Queen was built roughly on the same spot in 1972. The north hill Dairy Queen followed in 1978, Deer Park in 1991, and the south-end store came in 2004. At one time, they also operated the Innisfail and Lacombe Dairy Queens but are now Red Deer-focused.

Ice cream has been in his blood since he was little, he says. He remembers sweeping the sidewalk in front of that first shop and cleaned tables when they had their first sit-down restaurant.

“I started when I was really young, to the point where I could just see over the counter,” he says with a chuckle.

“When the time came to choose a career, I knew Dairy Queen and I knew I enjoyed it,” he said.

Now, Rob and his wife Rhonda’s three children, Drew, Justine and Victoria, are involved in the business, although Victoria’s goal is to become a school teacher. Rob’s younger brother Dean runs the north hill location and Drew oversees the other three.

Rob says people are what he likes best about the business.

There are the happy customers, of course, but also thousands of young people have come to Dairy Queen for their first jobs.

“It’s very satisfying to see somebody who comes to you who is very shy and laid back and kind of come out of their shell and gain that confidence.”

On the business side, there are always challenges to keep things interesting, such as the growing numbers of food options in the market.

“Anybody who feeds people is our competition,” he says.

His father’s philosophy, and one the family has taken to heart, is “if you become part of the community and get involved and support them, they will support you and take care of you.”

pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

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