On a hot summer’s day in Elkhorn, there’s a business in town that has crowds literally lining up outside for its soft serve ice cream, fresh burgers, and hand cut fries. Yet, the food is only half of the draw for customers who flock to Dairy Chef for its nostalgic, timeless atmosphere that takes them back in time.
Originally established in 1969 as “The Dairy Sweet,” the ice cream and burger shop has undergone an expansion and other changes over the years but has remained a faithful community staple. Today, the business is family-owned and operated by the Ozmun family who purchased the property in 2013.
Known for its quarter-pound burgers, Dairy Chef serves up hand-pattied beef that is never frozen. A fan favorite is the Big Mike, which is a bacon cheeseburger piled high with roast beef and soft cheddar cheese. Other popular choices that have kept regulars coming back for years include the Garbage Burger, the Pork Tenderloin sandwich, and the Original Pizza Burger. To dish out its own private mix of soft serve ice cream, Dairy Chef teamed up with a local company to craft a recipe that perfectly pairs with its other menu items. Each week, the business also introduces a dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free option as a Flavor of the Week to ensure everyone can enjoy a dessert at Dairy Chef.
After ordering from the walk-up window, customers are welcome to find a spot in the parking lot to enjoy their food. Whether in their cars, on their tailgates, in lawn chairs, or on a blanket, folks can be spotted indulging in signature sweets like the The Break-Up, which combines chocolate ice cream, Oreo, brownie bites, and fudge, all summer long.
Aside from its promise of tasty treats, Dairy Chef gives the community much more—a place to create memories with friends and family. For decades, the shop’s relaxed environment has been a popular “hang out spot” for students to grab a bite to eat and meet up with their peers after school. According to Michael Ozmun Jr., manager of Dairy Chef and son of owners Michael and Cheryl Ozmun, past graduates often visit to share stories of their youth that took place at Dairy Chef.
“People enjoy being able to come hang outside,” Ozmun Jr. said. “People are generally happy when they are going to get ice cream so we have a very positive crowd. Lines do get very long, especially on warmer days. Sometimes, there’s a longer wait, but we have been blown away by how patient our customers are. Overall, it’s really fun to walk around outside and see all of the people hanging out and just chatting with one another. It’s a unique environment that you don’t get to see a lot of anymore.”
Above all, Ozmun Jr. said the business aims to be community-focused, which means supporting the schools, families, and businesses in Elkhorn through various fundraisers and activities. Through a partnership with Relevant Community Church in Elkhorn, Dairy Chef also hosts Flicks with the Chef—a series of movie nights held on the second Saturday of June, July, August, and September. With lawn chairs and blankets in hand, hundreds of community members regularly gather to watch the outdoor movie screening, which has become a piece of summertime culture in Elkhorn.
Ozmun Jr., who grew up in Elkhorn and regularly enjoyed Dairy Chef, said his family feels privileged to be able to continue a tradition. “Everyone in our family works to some extent at Dairy Chef. My mom and dad are very active, as well as my sister, brother-in-law, and my wife. One of my best friends who I grew up with also works here. Not a lot of families get to work together all the time and it’s really cool that we’ve been able to do that for as long as we have.”
Over the past decade, Ozmun Jr. said the business has been busier than ever, which is a blessing, even on long days. “We are so grateful for our customers. It’s fun to see and connect with everyone who comes out. It’s always exciting to have new customers come in and try it, too. We try to make Dairy Chef as family-friendly and inviting as possible. We just want everyone to be happy and enjoy their experience.”