“Happy tastes good®” at the corner of 6th and Highway 50 in Las Animas, Colorado. It’s where you’ll find a delectable menu full of Grillburgers to Blizzards and everything in between, plus the amiable Dairy Queen owners, Bill and Nancy Long.
Bill and Nancy operate the only Dairy Queen from Pueblo to Garden City, Kansas, and the only DQ in the whole state of Colorado that serves breakfast. Up before the sun sprawls across the southeastern plains, Bill and Nancy ensure customers start their day well fueled on biscuits and gravy, breakfast burritos, and a variety of biscuit sandwiches. And of course, fresh coffee that will jumpstart any morning in Bent County.
By day’s end, the Longs have delighted the taste buds of ranchers and residents, vacationers and regulars, travelers to teens and toddlers. “We have a good highway business and people recognize our business where you can get a treat but can also get a hot meal,” Bill explains.
Sweethearts Turning to Sweet Treats
Born and raised in Las Animas, Bill and Nancy were high school sweethearts and married in 1974 soon after graduation. They have lived in Las Animas their entire lives except for a couple of years in their early marriage when they lived in Kansas. In 1981, they started a bus transportation business providing service to the local school district and the Boy Scouts of America.
In the early 1990s, the Longs bought land downtown and went into business in 1994 with a few other local investors to bring Dairy Queen to town. Four years later, Bill and Nancy bought out their business partners, and by 2006 stepped away from their bus company to concentrate on the restaurant.
“The name of our corporation is Las Animas Fast Food, LAFF. We are the Laugh Team. We always tell our employees, ‘It’s a happy place and a fun place to work, but it’s a responsible place to work,’” Nancy shares. “I want our employees to feel like our Dairy Queen is a happy place to work and that they are ready to serve customers. That’s something I’ve been glad to teach them or show them.”
Investing in People
Nancy’s first job as a teen was at the local Tastee Freez and those fond memories inspire her to give high school students their first job at the DQ Grill and Chill®, a name created after multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffet and his Berkshire Hathaway company bought International Dairy Queen in 1998.
“It was Warren’s idea to expand and grow the hot food business to complement the ice cream business,” says Bill.
From 2004 to 2016, Bill served as a County Commissioner and the DQ’s facility and maintenance manager while Nancy mainly handled the daily operations and employees. Today their business roles blend together smoothly like a Chicken Strip Basket topped off with an Oreo Blizzard, two of their most popular menu items.
“What I enjoy most is the customers and the DQ story. It’s just really fun to see families come in and see the kids be excited about an ice cream cone,” Nancy says. “And I love working with our employees. We have a great group of employees. I tell them, ‘Bill and I own the store, but we are not the bosses, the customers are the boss.’”
This commitment to serving customers first is something Bill and Nancy find when they work with First National Bank. “From when we were first starting our businesses, the bank has always been a great partner in working with us to grow our businesses. We’re not in the same situation we were several years ago in borrowing money, but the bank is still there for us when we need them,” Bill explains.
Serving Fan Food
“The top management all the way to the tellers at First National are very helpful,” Nancy quickly adds. “If we need extra coin or extra cash, they’ll work with us. We have a very good relationship with the bank.”
The Longs are quick to point out, a positive, steady banking relationship makes doing business so much easier. “First National has always provided very personal and professional services to us both personally and as business entrepreneurs. The bank views you as a partner. They step up to the plate and provide what you need to be successful.”
The Longs’ success is evident as they have built their business on the DQ motto “fan food vs. fast food” becoming a fan classic for locals and travelers in Las Animas. “We hear from people stopping out of town that they like our place because it’s clean. That’s always a priority for us. People appreciate the service,” Bill affirms.
“They frequently compliment our staff. We have a gal who has been with us 23 years and a couple of others for a lengthy amount of time. This is kind of the ole Mom and Pop business. We’re not corporate owned. It’s extremely important to Nancy that things go well and the customer leaves happy. For me being more on the maintenance side of things, I’m kind of a stickler for things being right and clean.”
Ensuring the restaurant is clean and the atmosphere upbeat is part of serving their hometown well for this couple who emphasizes the importance of small, rural communities to the fabric of America.
“I think rural America holds a lot and I don’t think that is always recognized,” Bill reflects. “It’s always been important for us to be a part of and serve our community. Our concern for the community is part of who we are.”
Building Las Animas Community Connections
The Longs find multiple ways to connect with their fellow local businesses and neighbors. “We provide meals to firemen when they are fighting wildfires and it’s a mealtime. Or when they have groups from other fire departments coming to help on bigger fires,” Nancy says. “We support the school with their different activities. For the school reading program, we give DQ gift coupons for reading rewards and also for the local library’s summer reading program. Whenever there are different sporting events or a softball tournament in town, we give coupons for participants.”
Bill and Nancy love seeing these children devour learning and a fun treat for their efforts. It’s rewarding for the Longs, parents of three grown children and nine grandchildren, to invest in the young lives and families in Southeastern Colorado.
“Some days are frustrating and challenging, but at the end of the day, it’s been rewarding growing up in our community and being a part of it for so many years,” Bill adds. “If I had to do all over again, I would enjoying doing this business again.”
Nancy agrees. And at the end of the day, when they’ve enjoyed their own favorite DQ Chicken BLT Salad for dinner, perhaps topped off with slice of Blizzard Cake, Bill and Nancy can relax and smile knowing that “happy tastes good” at the corner of 6th and Highway 50.