Arkansas' Oldest Dairy Bar Has Been Around Since The 1930s

Most people don't have to travel far when they get the hankering for a cold, sweet treat. More often than not, a Dairy Queen Blizzard, 31 flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, a Wendy's Frostie, or a McDonald's McFlurry is a short drive (or even walk) away. Establishments like these have taken the world by storm and expanded into everyone's backyard. While reliable, even predictable, for having tried and true favorites, many people would agree that they don't hold a candle to the mom-and-pop run creamery or tiny hole-in-the-wall roadside diner they went to growing up. Once upon a time, America was home to hundreds of dairy bars, or, as Atlas Obscura explains, roadside eateries that offered ice cream, burgers, hot dogs, and other low-cost food items to hungry locals and motorists.

While the vast majority of dairy bars across the country have become obsolete since their heydays of the 1950s through the 1970s, more than 90 still exist and operate in Arkansas. In a world of constant upgrades, renovations, and social media presence, many of these establishments feature none of the above. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette explains that the newest of these dairy bars opened in 2019, but the oldest has been open — and going strong — since 1934

Old Fashioned and just right

Betty's Old Fashion still sits on East Hillsboro Street in El Dorado, Arkansas, in the same place it did when it opened in the 1930s. Run by Phil Schaaf until 1976, it was originally called Old Fashion, where it dished out all-American fare and ice cream, per Only In Your State. When he retired, Betty Schaub, who had worked at the eatery since 1956, bought the place and proudly added her moniker, per Atlas Obscura. Clearly, she had been around long enough to see what had worked and didn't change much, and the original sign still sits proudly, if not a bit aged, atop the roof. With ice cream being Betty's featured offering, it also stands apart from other dairy bars by offering lunch specials like meatloaf, fried pork chops, and chicken with all the classic sides, often for under $10.

Most of the state's dairy bars have historically offered outdoor seating, benefiting blue-collar workers who stopped for a bite but hadn't had the chance to brush the dust off themselves first. The seating amenity was also a lifesaver for dairy bars during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. But Betty's is strictly take-out, as evidenced by its walk-up window and lack of seating. Don't expect to pay by debit card either, as cash is the only payment option. With Betty's and the rest of Arkansas' dairy bars remaining popular, it's clear that people still want to experience classic Americana and, of course, enjoy a solid meal.