Wharton: Onion rings and nostalgia at Pace’s Dairy Ann
Published: March 7, 2013 03:42PM
Updated: March 13, 2013 01:03PM
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Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune An old gas pump sits on the edge of Highway 89 where Pace's Dairy Ann has been a fixture since 1957.

Bountiful • Much has changed since Gordon and Elizabeth Pace opened Pace’s Dairy Ann at 1880 South along old U.S. Highway 89 in Davis County in 1957.

Interstate 15 replaced the old highway. The population exploded, bringing with it more development that included franchise restaurants and box stores. And prices of fast food items increased from an era when hamburgers, foot longs, and malts cost a quarter or you could get a drink for a nickel and buy an order of fries for a dime.

Yet, in an era where the small-town, independent drive-in is slowly disappearing, Pace’s Dairy Ann thrives.

The menu remains simple. Buy a cheeseburger and it will be cooked fresh and placed on a sesame seed bun that tastes as if it were baked that morning. Food, such as the drive-in’s signature home-made onion rings, hot dogs, tacos and fish and chips, is made fresh to order.

Then there is the ice cream or, to be more accurate, ice milk. While two old trucks that once delivered Dairy Ann frozen novelties from Provo to Ogden are parked in the back of the building, the little establishment still makes jet bars, ice cream sandwiches, nutty buddies and space bars. Patrons can choose 17 flavors of malts and shakes or enjoy a “rainbow,” a slush with a dab of ice milk in the center. Derbies, candy-coated ice cream cones, remain on the menu.

Finally, and most important, there is a Pace behind the counter who still does much of the cooking. Austin Pace, the fourth generation of the family that owns the Dairy Ann and son of current owner Todd, has worked there for 12 years and lives in the family’s historic brick home just south of the drive-in.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said after surviving a recent Tuesday lunch rush. “It’s something I would not mind doing. You can make a pretty good living flipping burgers. I enjoy making people happy.”

Gordon and Elizabeth Pace began their drive-in careers running a Dairy Queen at 207 S. Main in Bountiful in the early 1950s. They opened Pace’s Dairy Ann — named after a family member — next to the family home in 1957. The couple operated five ice cream trucks. Ralph Pace and his wife Carolyn bought the business, which is now owned by their son Todd.

Though spotlessly clean, the Dairy Ann retains its retro feel. Old gasoline pumps are located inside and outside. Antiques decorate the turquoise-colored outside and signs advertising such things as 17 cent per gallon gasoline and ice-cold Nehi pop decorate the simple inside seating area.

“One thing we like to focus on is cleanliness,” said Austin, moments after a waitress cleaned every table after the lunch rush. “We want to make people feel like they are at home. Nobody likes to eat in a dirty restaurant.”

But the competition from nearby franchises can be daunting to an independent business. Dairy Ann does not have a drive-up window or a dollar menu, though the most expensive thing you can order is $5.20 for chicken tenders or fish and chips.

“The thing that hurt us the most is the dollar menus,” said Pace. “People don’t appreciate quality as much. An older generation comes here. A lot of our regular customers are 30 to 65 or 70ish. They appreciate quality. Our food is made to order and takes a little longer. You have to be willing to wait a few minutes for a better quality item.”

The wait is worthwhile. Just take some time to soak in the antiques and the nostalgia and celebrate the fact you are in a one-of-a-kind, family-owned business.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton