SILVER GROVE – On Sunday, summer finally came to a close in tiny Silver Grove, Kentucky. That’s when the iconic Silver Grove Dari Bar closed for the season.
Greater Cincinnati has many great soft-serve joints. There’s Putz's Creamy Whip, of course. There’s also Sweeneys Cone Zone and the Whippy-Dip on Main Street in Crittenden.
But the Dari Bar is different. For one thing, it opened in 1952.
“The Dari Bar is part of our history,” said Larry Lucas, a 72-year-old retired educator who now lives in Anderson Township. Born in Augusta, Kentucky, he and his family have made the Dari Bar a regular destination for more than half a century.
Lucas was there Sunday, along with hundreds of other people who make the pilgrimage to be there on the day the Dari Bar closes for the season.
Claire and Andy Freppen were there, too, along with their three small children. Andy grew up in nearby Cold Spring, and the Dari Bar has been part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“We come here because the ice cream is good, but also because they have picnic tables and space for the kids to run,” he said. “When we go to McDonald’s or Frisch’s, we get the stink-eye because of the mess we leave behind. Here, we’re outside – the birds get whatever we leave.”
And so it continued all afternoon and well into the evening. There were rushes during half-time of Sunday’s NFL games and when the soccer games ended at Pendery Sports Park, two miles east on Mary Ingles Highway.
Al and Pam Springer were there with their 7-year-old grandson Brandon Roesch. (He got his “regular” – a small vanilla cone with sprinkles and a candy face.) Mike Cleves, 33, of Bellevue, was there with 5-year-old Sam and 7-year-old Aubrey, too.
“This is how it goes every year,” said Diane Ollberding, who owns the shop with her husband, John. They’ve owned the Dari Bar for 19 years and expect to hand it over in a couple years to their 40-year-old daughter, Theresa, who has worked there since she was 14.
It's More Than An Ice Cream Shop
The Dari Bar, you see, is part of the fiber of this town of just 1,100. It seems that every one of the 20 employees is related to someone who has worked there, either now or in the past; in fact, 25-year-old Allison Fender’s grandparents used to own the place.
Then there’s Fran Humphress. They call her “the cornerstone.” She’s 81 now and still walks 10 minutes from her home to put in a 40-hour work week. She has been there since 1981. Or 1982, she’s not sure.
“She’s a great employee,” said Diane. “If she’s scheduled for 9 a.m., she’ll be here at 8.” But then, she continues, “All of these girls are great employees.”
And they are girls, most of them. The youngest is 14. The majority of them are in high school, though a few already have graduated and hold down full-time jobs on top of their part-time work at the Dari Bar. It’s not a job for everyone, though. They make minimum wage, and they work hard. They have to know math, too; the Dari Bar doesn’t have cash registers or calculators, so they use pencils, a pad of paper and their brains.
Call it tradition or antiquated, but it’s how the Ollberdings do business. It’s not that they’re against change. John will show you all the improvements he has made on the buildings over the years. But they’ve resisted turning the Dari Bar into one of those flashy, be-everything-to-everybody ice cream places.
“We’ve tried to keep using the same ingredients we did when we took over,” said Diane. “About 10 years ago, the people who built the Dari Bar came by. They were impressed that we still have a lot of the same toppings they used years ago.”
Owners Stay True To Beliefs
Over the years, they’ve added more food. They now carry hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, chicken fingers and fried mushrooms. And all of it is surprisingly tasty. One of the reasons for that, said Diane, is that they are insistent about everything being fresh.
“We prepare our own produce every morning,” she said. “It’s not the bag lettuce with preservatives you get most places. We slice and dice all the vegetables by hand. We make our own strawberry ice cream.”
Yes, she knows that means more manual work. And she knows that involves the payroll being a little heftier.
“Things taste better this way,” she said. And that, of course, is what has kept people coming back year after year, decade after decade.
They occasionally clash with suppliers who try to foist off cheaper materials. But “lower-quality” is what they really mean. And that’s not how the Ollberdings run their business.
“I will never do that,” said Diane. “I know – we’re old-fashioned. But it’s worth it.”
The crowds thin after 8 p.m. There are still a few diehards hanging around, though, ordering their last milkshakes and blitzes.
Finally, the “closed” signs go up in the windows. But a minute later, a car races into the nearly empty parking lot. A guy climbs out and saunters up to the sales window.
“We’ll take him,” Diane calls to the girls inside.
Jason Frizzell, 25, who lives just a few blocks away, orders a Reese’s Cup blitz. Large.
“I knew I was cutting it late,” he said. “I saw the sign was off,” he added, pointing to the normally illuminated Dari Bar sign at the edge of the highway. “But I thought I’d try, anyway.”
He didn’t know this was closing day. Like so many customers before him, he has been coming here for years, even when he was a kid growing up in Butler, Kentucky.
And then he’s gone. Once more, autumn has come to Silver Grove. The Ollberdings had a little party in the back for the girls and handed out a summer’s worth of tips and bonuses. The girls made cones or shakes for the ride home.
Most of them expect to be back next year except Fender, who has taken a full-time job in Columbus. Fran will be back, though. She’ll be 82 by then, working alongside 15-year-old Paige Johnston, 16-year-old Rhiannon Rasnick and all the rest.
“It’s kind of a relief when we close,” said Diane. “By the end of the summer, we’re all pretty tired. But it’s sad, too. We really like these girls. And we really like our customers. We miss ‘em all winter. But we’ll be back.”
Silver Grove Dari Bar
5178 Mary Ingles Hwy., Silver Grove, Ky.
Reopens March 12.