A competition to win and keep customers has broken out on one of Stillwater's busiest corners, where three purveyors of frozen treats are set up.
When hot weather calls for cool treats, residents and visitors to Stillwater need only to head to the corner of Chestnut and Main streets, where choices abound. Dairy Queen and Leo’s Malt Shop are visible along Main Street across from each other and Cherry Berry is just north of Leo’s.
Across the street, Dairy Queen is countering this month with its Confetti Cake, a Blizzard that combines ice cream and birthday cake sprinkled with toppings. It's also expanding its hours.
The menu additions are partly in response to the arrival of newcomer Cherry Berry, a shop that affords customers the opportunity to make their own creation by mixing and matching 12 flavors of frozen yogurt and sweetening them with toppings from a buffet featuring more than 40 items.
Cherry Berry's opening last month has touched off a friendly competition among the purveyors of yogurt and ice cream, who agree that a hot summer will keep things cool on Stillwater's "Frozen Corner."
"There are a lot of people competing for the food and entertainment dollars, and we hope to provide great service and a great atmosphere, and let the customer decide what they want," said Bill Kulesa, Dairy Queen's director of operations. "I think we will be just fine."
Randy Jordan, who owns Cherry Berry with his wife, Jody, originally intended to open in Woodbury but settled on Stillwater after he visited the St. Croix River city last summer and saw the potential for walk-in business. At the time, the building at 125 Main St. was the only space available, so he signed the lease and opened in April. So far, crowds have been streaming into his confectionery, Jordan said.
"Some people will want ice cream, some will want yogurt," said Jordan, who also owns Cherry Berry franchises in Bismarck, N.D., and Colorado. "I think our products are different from the others and people will choose the treats they like. I think there is plenty of business to go around."
Cory Buettner, who owns Leo's, wasn't taking any chances. He responded by recently adding the Yo-malt, a hard-packed frozen yogurt that can be blended with a variety of toppings.
"You can rest on your laurels, but if competition comes to town you sharpen your pencil to keep customers coming back," Buettner said. "We should have done this before. It took the competition to say, 'Wake up. People are looking for a low fat alternative.' The competition has made us a better restaurant, and the eventual winners are the customers."
In recent months Buettner, who named Leo's after his late father, has also added gluten-free items, and in the coming weeks he will roll out a line of T-shirts sporting the motto "Low Fat, Get Cultured" to advertise the Yo-malt.
Kulesa said Dairy Queen has been a part of the Stillwater community since the 1970s but only moved downtown three years ago. The full-service restaurant has been a booster of the St. Croix Athletic Association's hockey and baseball teams, and has given away more than 10,000 Blizzards to kids through its DQ Rewards Program. Kulesa said that has helped Dairy Queen bring a loyal following, and he hopes that, along with its family atmosphere, will be enough to keep people coming in.
"I think initially people are going to try [Cherry Berry] out because they want to see the new thing," he said. "We think people who enjoy that will still come here. With the strong DQ brand and presence in the community, we feel there is enough [business] to go around."
He said a few people who have been in groups have opted for Cherry Berry, but came back to Dairy Queen's dining room to join their friends and eat it.
As the new kid on the corner, Jordan faces the task of building a loyal customer base as well as snagging tourists who roam the sidewalks perusing Stillwater's numerous antique and specialty shops. His cheery space with its bright pink, red and lime green color scheme is eye-catching. Cherry Berry also has big screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. And with its self-serve machines, the biggest attraction, Jordan said, is that customers "don't have to stand in line."
Menus and marketing aside, weather could be the biggest factor in how the battle for customers plays out at Chestnut and Main, and at the nearby Mara-Mi Cafe and Nelson's Ice Cream Shop.
"We are at the mercy of the weather," said Kulesa, who said Dairy Queen will be open until 10 p.m. starting this week. "If it's a great day, people will be out walking around. Boats will rise in that tide and people will get their piece of the pie."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib