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Wharton: Family runs delightful Tooele drive-in

Published March 21, 2013 1:34 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tooele • Dairy Delight, a tiny drive-in next to a tire store and across the street from a mortuary at 46 W. 100 South in this western Utah town, embodies the meaning of a "family-owned-and-operated" establishment.

Gilbert and LaRae Lopez opened it in the early 1970s at the site of an old Dairy Queen. When they retired four years ago, sisters Jessica and Shannon took over ownership while sisters Beth and Lori and brother Chris all help out. The four sisters refer to themselves as the "Dairy Chicks."

The spotless restaurant does have its quirks.

Take, for example, the decks of playing cards that are placed on almost every table. That's not something diners see every day.

"We started noticing that with the craze of electronics and cell phones, people didn't seem to be talking," explained Shannon as she prepared for the lunch rush on a recent Thursday. "So we put decks of cards on the table so families can eat, stay and play together. People have a lot of fun with them. We go through so many decks. We bring orders out and watch people playing 'go fish' or the matching game with their kids."

One group of monthly regulars gathers on a Friday to play bunco, often ringing a little bell. That sounds different from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" pinball machine that takes up a small corner of the establishment and no doubt delights students from nearby Tooele High who wander in for lunch or a snack.

Another quirk: the beach-themed decorations throughout the inside of Dairy Delight. These include a surfboard that says "try our fish and chips just for the halibut" and photos of the Lopez family on vacation.

Shannon said it shows just how much a family that spends hours together working enjoys each other's company.

"With working and running our business, we don't get to many places," she said. "When we go as a family, we love the beach."

So the decorations help bring the beach to Tooele.

Finally, there is the establishment's signature burger, the Old Fashioned, that most first-timers find shockingly large. It is a half-pound of meat, a toasted bun that is probably 8 inches wide, with all the trimmings. It can come with cheese, bacon or mushrooms and is wrapped in aluminum foil. Some patrons think it looks like a hubcap. Shannon has seen a family order one and cut it in four quarters.

Jessica said the Old Fashioned was born when her father, Gilbert, was traveling in Oregon and had a real appetite. So he ordered a big burger. The Lopez family orders the huge buns specially from a nearby Macey's bakery.

The other thing that sets Dairy Delight apart is, for what appears to be a simple drive-in, its extensive menu. That includes many types of burgers, homemade soups in bread bowls, fish sandwiches, halibut and chips, fried pickles, breaded mushrooms and zucchini, English chips, tater tots, jalapeño poppers, homemade soft- and hard-shelled tacos, Malibu chicken, Philly sandwiches, scones, Navajo tacos and an extensive variety of shake flavors. Everything is cooked to order, and tartar and fry sauces and salsa are homemade.

Perhaps the best part, though, are the "dairy chicks." The family's love for people and enthusiasm are catching.

And the restaurant could be around for a while. The sisters are already hoping their kids will want to take over running the business.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton