IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
It was Sherb Noble who hosted the historic “All You Can Eat for 10 Cents!” soft serve sale in his Kankakee ice cream emporium in 1938. And it was Sherb Noble who in 1940 opened the first official Dairy Queen store, in Joliet, and the third Dairy Queen store, in Aurora, Illinois. Today, 52 years later, it is Sherb Noble who has been with the Dairy Queen system longer than anyone else. Noble still owns seven Dairy Queen stores.
Born in 1908 to a country doctor and his wife in Clemons, Iowa, Noble got his first taste of the dairy business, as he tells it, “delivering a cow to her pasture for a dollar a month.” After graduating from high school, he completed the two-year dairy course at Iowa State University, Ames, and then went to work for Borden, Inc., in Iowa City. In 1931, he returned to Clemons to manage a cooperative creamery.
A few years later, the young dairyman crossed paths with Jim Elliot (who would later become a Dairy Queen pioneer). Jim and his wife Grace were running some ice cream stores in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They told Noble about a suitable property for an ice cream store in Kankakee, Illinois, owned by one J.F. McCullough.
Noble was ready for a change. He soon owned three retail shops in the Kankakee area where he sold ice cream made by the McCulloughs. By 1941, he had opened two of the first three Dairy Queen stores in the country. His business was prospering.
Noble recalls, “In the early days, people would ask us if we had chocolate, and we only had vanilla. I’d ask them if they had ever tried our soft serve. I knew that once they tried it, they’d be back for more, because Dairy Queen products have always had that ‘come-back’ taste.”
In 1942, Noble entered the armed services and spent more than three years in Europe. When he returned home, he approached the McCulloughs about acquiring the seven-county territory around Chicago. Although the McCulloughs had already sold the territory, they bought it back for Noble, who promptly began to open stores. In 1947, business was so good that Noble sold his interest in his three ice cream shops to work full time at building Dairy Queen operations in northeastern Illinois. At one point, he owned 35 stores.
Noble’s management philosophy: “If we run our stores 100 percent right, the guy down the street has got to give 101 percent to beat us.”