WALWORTH — Summer never really starts in Walworth until the windows swing open and the ice cream starts flowing at the Dairy Ripple.
That is how it has been for more than 60 years.
And somewhere along the way, the classic drive-in ice cream and hamburger stand became a local institution that seems to grow more popular every season.
“It’s great,” customer Judy Trautman said. “It’s kind of a thing out of the past.”
Although it has changed hands several times, each new owner has been smart enough to maintain the Dairy Ripple’s simple charm and nostalgic atmosphere.
In fact, not much at all has changed at 600 Kenosha St. since the place got started during the days of bobby socks, souped-up cars and Elvis Presley.
Danielle Svanstrom, who bought the business four years ago, said she would even like to add a few more amenities, like neon lights, to heighten the sense that customers are stepping back in time.
“People come here because they’ve been coming here for years,” she said. “They’re reliving their childhood memories.”
Now known as Meggy Moo’s Dairy Ripple, the attraction offers a relaxed setting with old wooden park benches and plenty of room for customers to tailgate alongside their cars.
Throughout the summer, the business is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Crowds come for the ice cream, burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, milkshakes, and other classic drive-in fare. There also is a wildly popular favorite: small deep-fried donuts called “widgets.”
The ice cream is available in different styles, including classic soft-serve vanilla or chocolate, as well as hot fudge sundaes, and scoop flavors ranging from mint chip and cookie dough to a flavor of the month.
Adriana Miranda, a regular lunchtime customer, said she passes up other lunch options to find her way to Dairy Ripple for the fun atmosphere and the delicious food.
“The burgers are really good,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but they’re really good.”
Those associated with the Dairy Ripple take pride in the fact that they operate in the shadows of a Burger King outlet, which is right next door. Not only that, the little ice cream and hamburger drive-in has outlived A&W Restaurant and Dog n’ Suds, two other big-name competitors that once had locations nearby.
Scott Braden, who owned the Dairy Ripple from about 2007 to 2015, said folks in the Walworth area have made it clear that they appreciate a small, locally owned business that is part of the town.
“The community has endorsed this,” Braden said. “When you think summer, you think of the Dairy Ripple.”
As best as anyone can tell, the business was started in the mid-1950s by an entrepreneur from Harvard, Illinois. It has stood ever since at at the T-shaped intersection where state Highway 67 empties into Walworth at Kenosha Street.
The business has changed hands many times over the years.
Svanstrom, who lives in East Troy, was an employee for about five years before Braden let her know that he was ready to retire.
Svanstrom jumped at the chance to take over the Dairy Ripple. She is now embarking on her fourth summer as owner.
Acknowledging that it is harder work than she anticipated, Svanstrom said she has enrolled in college-level business classes to help her manage such issues as inventory, personnel and accounting.
“It challenges me every day — I like that,” she said. “I’m learning as I go.”
Svanstrom maintains a corp of about a dozen employees, mostly local high school students, to help her keep things moving.
On hot summer days, the flow of customers is nearly non-stop. On Friday and Saturday nights, hundreds of people turn out and fill up the parking lot, standing in line for their favorite summer treat.
It is not just an ice cream cone to many people — it is a serving of classic Americana being dished up.
Employee Karen Kuester, a retired longtime restaurant waitress, is in her second year at the Dairy Ripple.
Kuester marvels at the crowds that turn out at 600 Kenosha St. The place is a family tradition, she said, and it grows stronger as each new generation introduces their children.
After spending her career in high-priced, upscale restaurants, Kuester gets a kick out of seeing the Dairy Ripple in action.
“It’s fun,” she said. “How can you not be happy serving ice cream?”