By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
It didn’t take long for Charles and Marty Doehring to realize they had made a truly giant order at Schultz’s Dairy Bar in Altamont.
They came on Tenderloin Tuesday to get a taste of giant tenderloins — sized more for server platter than regular plates. When their sandwiches with French Fries and topped by a burger bun — sized more for decoration — came to the table, the couple from Stewardson soon realized they needed take-home boxes. That was no problem because heating up the remains of the super sandwich could provide a few meals through the week.
“It’s our first time for Tenderloin Tuesday. But we love their pizza, too. And we’re familiar with their catering through the Strasburg Lions Club,” Marty said.
Joe and Mag Hardiek, of Mason, are a three-generation Dairy Bar family.
“It has always been a good place to eat. There aren’t too many places that still have home-cooked food,” said Mag, who was enjoying fare from the buffet one night.
“I like the family aspect of it,” Joe said. “That’s getting to be a rarity anymore.”
The Dairy Bar has been around for 61 years, so many people have stopped by at the restaurant by Schmidt Park on the south side of Altamont. Soon after taking over in 1989, Al and Deb Schultz expanded from an ice cream and burger stand to a restaurant with a catering business attached.
The business took another turn in ownership when Kevin and Carrie Schultz, both teachers in Altamont schools, took over from Kevin’s parents in October. Deb’s Catering relocated to a new location in Effingham. So the business is still family-owned with a new generation in charge.
The change was “a dream come true” for Kevin, who remembers going to the Dairy Bar after Pee Wee League games for ice cream cones. He was eight when his parents became owners of a business that tweaked his taste buds.
“It was so exciting when my mom and dad took over the restaurant,” Kevin recalled.
The new owners have been promoting the business on Facebook with different specials, including low-priced kids’ specials on Monday, Happy Hour milkshakes and 8-inch pizzas – at one time, the Dairy Bar was the primary source of pizza in Altamont.
But the most successful of their promotions is “Tenderloin Tuesday.” Their Facebook page receives tens of thousands of hits and on Tuesday evening the dining room is full of Tenderloin lovers out to devour the perfect pork tenderloin sandwich.
The Dairy Bar has also raised the standard on tenderloin sandwiches by offering different toppings like pizza, a horseshoe mix of cheese, bacon crumbles and fries and a Manhattan-inspired sandwich crowned with mashed potatoes and covered with white gravy.
“It becomes a destination stop for people. We have people coming here from Indiana or Missouri. They hear about Tenderloin Tuesday and they want to try our sandwiches,” Kevin said.
“When the dining room is full on Tuesday, you will see people snapping photographs of their Tenderloins. They are posting a lot of ‘foodies,’” Carrie said of customers using cyberspace for culinary comment.
The giant tenderloins are not just huge, but tasty as well.
“We hand cut and bread them before deep frying. We have a super-secret family recipe, as well, on the breading. We’ve been asked to freeze and ship them to Florida. We won’t because they won’t taste the same. Besides, this is a Midwest sandwich. You see tenderloins in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Indiana, not down South,” Kevin explained.
Offering something different and delicious has been the secret to success for the Dairy Bar since 1957. The Schultz family gradually expanded the menu and seating area. It can now seat up to 70, and the city park in the back offers a scenic dining area as well.
“I think we’ve been here 20 times or something like that and I like the ice cream and going to the park to play,” said Kaylee Myers, who with her brother, Hunter, was enjoying ice cream while their grandfather, Jim Whitehair, finished off his cheese sticks.
“Having worked in Effingham for 37 years and then moving to South Carolina, the Dairy Bar just feels like home to me,” Whitehair said. “It’s kid-friendly here and the park is real close. Plus, there’s the fact in a town like this everybody knows everyone.”
“Being by the park does help us. I’d like to be closer to the Interstate, but the good thing is people know this is a mom-and-pop shop, not a corporate chain,” Kevin said.
Vandalia resident Mary Sparks was tackling a giant tenderloin while her granddaughter, Lauren Johnson, tried to attack her tremendous sandwich, as well.
“I like how it is an old-fashioned place. And the ice cream is delicious,” Johnson said.
Adding more sandwiches, a salad bar and hot bar have drawn in more customers. Kevin said innovation is vital for drawing in customers.
“We live in an era where nine out of 10 new restaurants close after six months. You have to sharpen your pencil and have quality customer service and listen to customers as well. A lot of our customers are local residents and invested in this place,” he said.
They also have a committed group of employees.
“We don’t have any turnover. We have kids go to college and come back in the summer to work here,” Kevin said.
Employees at the Dairy Bar know the customer is always right, even with different orders.
“We had a customer come in one night asking for a runny egg on a chicken sandwich. We’re very accommodating. The only challenge is shooting from the hip on the price for something that’s not on the menu,” Kevin said.
The next generation of the Schultz restaurant clan includes Keegan and Kennedi. They have different favorites from the menu. Keegan prefer cheeseburgers with pickles, while Kennedi is more creative.
“We call the tenderloin with the cheese and fries a ‘Hoof Shoe,’ but Kennedi just wants two hamburger patties, no buns, with cheese sauce. It’s called the ‘Kennedi Shoe,’” Carrie said.
The Schultzes are expanding on their restaurant investment with a “Pinky’s” at Lake Sara. It will be a seasonal business that they hope makes for wonderful memories for years to come.