It's Monday, March 1, 1999. I'm in the middle of moving from South Park Township, Pennsylvania to Burbank, California. My Nissan Altima is loaded with many of my most valuable possessions, and on today's agenda, I'm driving from Joplin, Missouri to Tucumcari, New Mexico.
I'm just past Oklahoma City, driving westbound on Interstate 40, it's getting to be just about lunchtime, and for the third or fourth time since I crossed into Oklahoma hours ago, I see a billboard for a fast food restaurant called Braum's. I like the logo (an ice cream cone over a "B"), it looks fairly appetizing, and like it would be a nice change of pace from chains I've actually heard of, so I take the El Reno exit onto U.S. 81 and find Braum's less than half a mile north of the Interstate.
I walk in and notice that this isn't just a fast food restaurant, it's also a convenience store, and that side of the building is actually more busy than the restaurant area. I step towards the gleaming stainless steel counter and study the menu board. The first thing I notice is that, on this unusually warm late winter day, there's a large display promoting limeades. I love limeades, and this is the first time I've had the opportunity to have one that didn't involve frozen Minute Maid concentrate.
I order a limeade and a grilled chicken sandwich. The sandwich is good, and the limeade is wonderful. After eating, I look around the convenience store portion for a while, noticing that many of the products are Braum's brand. I wish I could buy some ice cream, or even some limeade mix (if such a thing exists), but I'm still two full days from California on my intentionally slow schedule and have no room in the car. I don't even want to buy another limeade to go because of the problem of having to find a rest area later.
But I kept thinking about how good the limeade was, and how strange it was to have a full fast food restaurant and a convenience store full of store brand products all in one building, and so I kept wondering about it...
Henry Braum owned a dairy processing plant in Emporia, Kansas, as well as a herd of cows to partially supply the business. His son Bill Braum worked with him.
In 1952, Henry Braum sold his wholesale dairy business in favor of selling ice cream directly to the public at a chain of Kansas ice cream shops called Peter Pan Ice Cream; five years later, Bill Braum bought the chain from his father.
There were 61 Peter Pan stores by 1967, when Bill Braum sold them to an ice cream wholesaler, promising not to sell ice cream in the state of Kansas for the next 10 years as a condition of the sale.
Braum had kept the cows and the processing plant, and merely went one state south to sell ice cream. The first Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy Store opened in Oklahoma City in 1968, and by the end of that year, 24 stores were operating in the Sooner State, with ingredients and supplies trucked in from Emporia every day.
In 1971, Braum built a new processing plant in Oklahoma City, and the cows came south in 1975 to a new Braum farm in Tuttle, on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. A bakery was built in 1978.
Braum's has grown to over 280 company-owned locations (there is no franchising), and the dairy items sold at all of the stores are the product of the 10,000-plus Holstein cows on the Braum farm, which are milked three times a day. To ensure freshness, all of the Braum's stores are within 300 miles of Oklahoma City, throughout the state of Oklahoma and in portions of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas. And they make a damn good limeade.