Pop’s Dari Dell has been part of Reeds Spring since 1958.
REEDS SPRING – Pop’s Dari Dell didn’t used to be off the beaten path.
For years, it greeted around 21,000 cars every day from its spot on the main road between Springfield and Table Rock Lake. The black-and-white checkered ice-cream stop — the self-proclaimed “Home of the Twist” — would stay open until the wee hours of the morning, often drawing lake-loving customers as they crawled past on the congested road.
Change came in 2002, when a new road bypassed the town’s main drag. Instead of driving through the middle of town, motorists could skip it all together. It was a decision that concerned locals: After all, staying out of sight isn’t usually a good business strategy.
But in the years since, the Dari Dell has become a destination instead of a landmark. Its fans seek it out, keeping it alive and open six days a week.
“This is the only thing that hasn’t changed,” says customer Charlie Brantner of Pop’s. He grew up going to school next door, and recalls the days when students would gather at the dell after class.
He is just one of many who have returned.
“I know I’m on my fourth generation of kids that I’ve been serving, because I’ve been working that window over 30 years,” says Dale Minscer, whose family has owned the business since 1974. “I served kids when I was little, and they now have kids and they have grandkids.”
Pop’s is shown circa 1977. (Photo courtesy of Pop’s Dari Dell)
Minscer’s family didn’t begin the business, but they have owned it the longest. They relocated from Iowa, where they had several restaurants, to take over its operation.
The move wasn’t their first trip to the Ozarks. Minscer’s father grew up in Lead Hill, Ark., and the family had spent time vacationing in the area. Aside from leaving the colder weather up north, the Reeds Spring business seemed to offer them a unique chance. “We were actually coming down here to slow down,” says Minscer.
When the family relocated to Reeds Spring, the area was drastically different than it is today. Nearby Branson West — back then, known as Lakeview — didn’t even have a McDonald’s.
“Reeds Spring was kind of a booming area,” he recalls. “I mean, we had the bank, which is no longer here. We had three grocery stores in town. There was a general store in town. We had a western auto store in town. Mercantile stores. Shoe store. It was a pretty hopping town back then in the ’70s and ’80s.”
If Pop’s walls could talk, they could tell of local life even before that boom. The business was started in 1958 when the Burk family opened up shop in a 12-by-16-foot building brought in on a flatbed truck. The building has expanded over the years, but that core structure is still part of Pop’s.
Johnnie Holt remembers those early days well. After all, the 87-year-old was the one who moved the original building to Reeds Spring so the business could start.
“It has a hamburger joint, but they didn’t do no good sitting over there on the creek,” he recalls of the previous owners. “So they sold the building and hired me to haul it in.”
Holt has seen the drive-in evolve from those early days, and is still a loyal customer. He’s so dedicated, in fact, that he gets there however he has to — including by driving his tractor.
And while he might not take that vehicle to the big city of Springfield, he knows that there are people there who loves Pop’s, too.
“I can be in a big supermarket in Springfield and not be surprised to hear them talk about Pop’s Dari Dell in Reeds Spring,” he says.
Memories straight ahead.
Some of those folks from Springfield include Dennis and Melissa Erfling, who are longtime fans of Pop’s. “Back when we were boaters, we had to make a stop every Sunday,” says Dennis Erfling, sweet treat in hand.
Things have changed since then — they’re riding three-wheeled motorcycles these days — “but we always find out way here,” he says. “It’s just a great place to stop.”
Part of the reason the Erflings enjoy the Dari Dell is the atmosphere and the fact that “it’s not a chain,” as Melissa Erfling compliments it.
Dale Minscer “pulls” an ice cream cone.
When asked what he feels has kept the business alive, Minscer cites factors including good customer service and old-fashioned personality.
“I think what’s made us survive here is just keeping good quality food (and) serving our ice cream that everybody just raves about,” he says.
Some of that food includes juicy burger baskets, delectably fried favorites such as onion rings, curly fries and mushrooms. Coneys, corn and hot dogs are there, too, as are chicken strips, tuna salad and more.
And then, of course, there’s ice cream.
Malts, shakes, banana splits and sundaes are on the menu. Cones may be ordered in traditional chocolate, vanilla or twist, which is one of the drive-in’s claims to fame. “We’ve been serving the twist for years,” says Minscer, who says that Pop’s was the first place locally where such a cone could be bought. “I mean, that’s why it’s called the home of the twist. There for a long time, you couldn’t get the twist anywhere else.”
In the early ‘90s, they upped the ante by adding flavor bursts such as black cherry and orange. “Now we can do it where we got up to 258 different combinations,” he says.
The make-your-own variations can come as the familiar small, medium and large-sized cones. But for those with a super sweet tooth, there’s the gigantic Springfield Twist. It’s an ice cream cone so big that it barely fits through the order window, and is tied to the tradition of local fishermen.
“When we first took over, the fishermen would buy ice cream cones. Well, they kept wanting a bigger cone and a bigger cone and a bigger cone,” says Minscer.
It was a challenge the Minscers chose to accept.
“I pull it as big as I can pull it,” says Minscer. “Until I can’t pull it anymore because you either are tilting it too far out and it’s going to fall off, or the bottom of the machine stops you.”
Pulling such an ice cream cone takes technique, but Minscer has plenty of experience. He took over full time at the dell in 2004, and spends six days a week within its walls.
He’s also been practicing since he was around 8 years old.
As a child, his father instructed employees to give Minscer ice cream whenever he asked — which got to be a little too often for the busy workers’ taste.
“I was little enough that they pulled me through that window and stood me in front of that machine and said, ‘You start drawing your own because we’re tired of it,’” Minscer recounts.
“I tease them when they come here with their kids and their grandkids that I haven’t figured out how to get back out that window yet.”
Want to visit?
Pop’s Dari Dell (22527 Main St., Reeds Spring) is open Wednesday through Monday. For hours or more information, call 417- 272-8290 or connect on Facebook.