Dairy Queen owner Steve Walter is retiring. His family has operated Dairy Queens since the late 1950s.


After nearly three decades of owning and expanding his Dairy Queen kingdom throughout Douglas County, Steve Walter is retiring. 

Walter took over the Eudora Dairy Queen from his father, Ike, also known as I.C., in 1996 and worked his way up, now owning both Dairy Queen locations in Lawrence as well. 

The Walter family has a long history of owning Dairy Queens, with the first one bought by I.C. in the late 1950s. Originally, he bought a Dairy Queen in Hoisington with plans to demolish it and turn it into a parking lot for the grocery store he owned called Town and Country Supermarket. 

His plans changed when he looked at the Dairy Queen books and records and saw the opportunity to expand the franchise. 

“He started expanding his Dairy Queen kingdom,” Walter said. “He had stores in Clay Center, Winfield and other various places.” 

This led to I.C. buying both Dairy Queens in Lawrence when they were sold together. Eventually, he built the Eudora location in 1996 and passed it off to Walter. At first, Walter only looked after the Eudora Dairy Queen, but as management retired from the Lawrence locations, he took over them all. 

However, it wasn’t always Walter’s dream to take over the family business. He first started his career as a college football coach, helping out at the University of Kansas, Friends University and Washburn University.  

“I had been coaching for nearly 20 years, and there is this vagabond, gypsy life that comes with football,” Walter said. “It’s not very good for family, so I thought maybe it’s time for me to get out of coaching.”

The transition to owning multiple Dairy Queens even came as a surprise to him, but the difference between coaching and owning a soft-serve franchise is not as big as Walter once thought.

“In coaching, you work 365 days a year for, let’s say, 10 game days,” Walter said. “But with owning a business, every day is game day.”

Managing three locations involved a lot of moving around, but balancing the workload was only possible with the help of wife and CFO Millie, Walter said.

“I ran the operations, but Millie ran the business,” Walter said. “Everyone talks about me, but she made this thing run.” 

Millie is also retiring alongside Walter after helping with payroll and other finances at Dairy Queen. She has been with Dairy Queen since Walter took over the Eudora location.

“He needed to know someone was back there paying the bills and making sure we had money,” Millie said. “I don’t know how anybody does it by themselves, but it’s heartwarming when he tells me I made the business run.”

Since his time working at Dairy Queen, he built many relationships with employees and customers. 

“I can’t even begin to mention all of the hard working employees,” Walter said. “I will cherish every single one of those relationships, even though some of them might not think so.”

Cassie Stout has worked with Walter for seven years and is going to miss the fun he brought to the franchise.

“One time I was decorating cakes, and he started singing and dancing to Lizzo in the back,” Stout said. “He got both me and the cook laughing, and he knew it.” 

The people made his career invaluable, said Walter, and some of his favorite memories are seeing how his relationships with employees have come full circle.

“What’s special and unique about Dairy Queen is that I would hire the kids of some of my original crew members,” Walter said. 

Melissa Athey, the general manager at the Eudora Dairy Queen, said Walter’s retirement will change Dairy Queen, but is confident they will be able to maintain the customs he put in place.

“It’s going to be really different,” Athey said. “Hopefully this is what we need here, but at the same time we are going to miss the family feel of it.”


Dairy Queen owner Steve Walter shows off photos of when he first started working at the Eudora Dairy Queen in 1996. 


For employee Elizabeth Bradley, Walter’s retirement means Dairy Queen will lose some of its charm.

“They are saying it’s a small change, but it’s definitely going to be a big change because he has been here for so long,” Bradley said.

Walter recognizes there might be a few changes to Dairy Queen after he retires, but he is confident that his employees will do a good job of relating to the consumer, while also keeping a sense of community.

“We still have the old standards of Dairy Queen, but we continually put out new innovative products, which is what the modern consumer wants,” Walter said.

Walter guarantees the quality and taste of Dairy Queen menu items won’t change, and urges people to try the different hot chocolate drinks on the menu. 

“I am a frozen hot chocolate guy, but you can’t go wrong with any of our blizzards,” Walter said.

Their menu offers items that other restaurants don’t, but it’s the sense of community Dairy Queen provides that makes Walter and others return, he said.

“To me, the difference between Dairy Queen and a lot of other places is that Dairy Queens are more mom and pop,” Walter said. “You know your people and they know you, as compared to a lot of other quick service franchise restaurants that are corporate owned.”

While Walter has served the Eudora community for almost 30 years, it hasn’t always been easy. In 2011, the Eudora Dairy Queen caught on fire after equipment overheated, causing Walter and his staff to close for renovations. No one was hurt in the accident, and it proved to be a learning experience for Walter.

“When we had the fire out there, that was not a fond memory, but going through the rebuilding process was,” Walter said.

Working toward retirement has kept Walter busy, but he is grateful that new owner Lubna Khan is taking over all three Dairy Queen locations in Douglas County.

“The beauty of the transition is I found a buyer that wanted to keep the county contract intact,” Walter said. “She was bold and big enough to purchase all three locations, rather than trying to break up the franchise and one-off them.”

With retirement around the corner, Walter said he is excited to travel with his wife and spend more time with his family.


Dairy Queen owner Steve Walter said the memories that he made with his employees over the years will stay with him.

“We are going to relax and enjoy life for a little bit,” Walter said. “I want to have some time for my wife and I to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

Similarly, Millie is excited for the extra time to travel and see their kids, but she will miss the relationships she made along the way.

“Thank you to the community and to the employees,” Millie said. “We have had great business relationships and great customer relationships, and we will miss that.”

His retirement comes with a heavy heart, but Walter is grateful for every connection he made throughout his 27 years at Dairy Queen. 

“I want to thank the Eudora community for accepting Dairy Queen and accepting me when we first came in,” Walter said. “I also want to thank them for 27 years of relationships and business.”

Reach reporter Camryn Robbinson with more business news at eudoratimes@gmail.com.

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