It’s not yet noon on a recent Tuesday morning, but the parking lot at Dairy Chef in Elkhorn is already packed. Decked out in Elkhorn High School’s colors, the humble red and white shack is more than meets the eye.
It’s here that malts, sundaes, and dipped cones reign supreme, not to mention their famous Storms—think here of a variation on a popular concoction with a similarly wintry name at Warren Buffett’s places that also have the word “Dairy” in the name. The Dairy Chef, under the hand of owner Mike Ozmun, is all about keeping customers happy. A self-proclaimed foodie, Ozmun enjoys traveling the country to find inspiration for what might be next for the menu at this homey little mainstay of the ice cream circuit.
“When I hear of someone that has something great,” says Ozmun, “I go find out about it. I’m infatuated with food.”
Though the ice cream menu stays true to the decades-long tradition of the Dairy Chef, the remaining food is all Ozmun. From French dips to pork tenderloin sandwiches, his grill selections ensure that nobody goes home hungry. All items are made fresh daily. One hundred pounds of potatoes are hand-cut into fries each morning, and meats are straight from Rick’s Meats a mere three blocks away.
Ozmun purchased the Dairy Chef in May of last year, but he’s no stranger to the ice cream joint. After moving to Elkhorn in 1991 with his wife, Cheryl, and children, Sarah and Michael, the family were familiar faces at the place they later bought, visiting anywhere between two and five (five!) times a week. Now Michael is both the general and kitchen manger. Sarah is also a manager. Cheryl handles the scheduling and ordering of provisions.
“When we decided to take it over,” says Sarah, “we all as a family agreed that if we were going to do it, we had to do it together.” Her favorite part of the job is seeing all the regular customers and being a part of their lives in the community that has maintained it’s quaint, small-town vibe even as Omaha grew to absorb the once-standalone city.
Good table manners can be, at times, optional. Just ask Larry Anderson.
The mechanic from Waterloo, brings his 14-month-old Great Dane, Harley, to Dairy Chef a couple times a week. “He’s too big for a puppy cone now,” says Anderson, “and he kept trying to drink my malts, so he gets his own large vanilla cone.” The scene that unfolded next had “viral video potential” written all over it as the humongous hound attacked the equally gargantuan treat.
It’s just one of the all-American, slice-of-life vignettes that play out every day at a little place that caters to a nation’s long love affair with ice cream.
“It’s friendly, and it’s great ice cream,” says Ozmun. “You’ll always get a smiling face…and it’s worth the wait!