Sunday, August 1, 2021

A New Film: Arkansas Dairy Bars

Ice cream, and something more - a delightful, nostalgic array of restaurants all over Arkansas keep a tradition going, safely, during a pandemic age. A business model that already allows social separation while feeding into the need for comfort food, continues to thrive here. Come join me as I explore our state, seeking out the stories of our local dairy bars and sharing them with you. You'll certainly get hungry watching what's to come.

Dairy bars.

When I mention this type of restaurant to people who don’t live in Arkansas, I often get a blank stare. In other places, these joints are called milk bars. And – in other places – they aren’t quite as common as they are here in The Natural State. But they’re a marvelous way to feed your nostalgia, even in the risky COVID-19 age. 

Back in January, I was looking for my next project. I had spent time during the pandemic writing cookbooks instead of the travel guides for which I am well known. But, like many, I was itching to get out and about again and resume my normal life – normal, for me, being visiting, researching, and sharing the stories of our state’s fine dining establishments.

A shake and Mel's Dairy Bar in Malvrn

My partner and I were out one Saturday afternoon delivering books. I wanted ice cream, and so did he, so we stopped in at a place I knew – a restaurant that didn’t even have a street sign. That place was Mel’s Dairy Bar in Malvern. It’s south of downtown on U.S. Highway 67, a little yellow building from whence ice cream and massive burgers come. 

It was while I was enjoying a caramel shake that the idea popped into my head: dairy bars – by their own natural construction – are likely the best prepared restaurants for pandemic times. Orders are through a window, as are pick-ups. Social distancing can be maintained safely. And there’s a nostalgic kick to be considered.

Investigating the Kream Kastle Drive In in Blytheville on a research trip for Arkansas Dairy Bars

I awoke the next morning with the idea to create a book on the subject and got busy researching the state’s dairy bars. I was quite surprised to find that the model I had thought about was indeed working well: of the state’s 95 dairy bars around in 2019, some 94 of them were still in operation.

A butterscotch sundae and Philly at the Lions Den in Clarendon

So, I traveled safely, wearing my personal protection, and visited each of these locations. I sampled all sorts of fare – from remarkable butterscotch sundaes at Lion’s Den Drive In in Clarendon and the steak fingers at the Lighthouse Drive-In in Wickes

A double hubcap burger with seasoned fries at the Yellowjacket Drive In in Sheridan

to dipped cones at Portia’s Dairy King and righteous burgers at Sheridan’s Yellow Jacket Drive-In – and started building a book. 

Cinematographer Jeff Dailey records the Morphews at Bailey's Dairy Treat in Hot Springs

When Arkansas PBS decided it was time to create another Arkansas food program, “Arkansas Dairy Bars” seemed like the perfect entry. Over the course of three weeks in late March and early April, cinematographer Jeff Dailey and I traveled to a host of different locations across this marvelous state, recording the stories of the dairy bars selected and the people who work in them. 

Recording at Ray's in Monticello

Now, we’re bringing the stories to you. On August 19th at 7 p.m., you’ll be able to meet all the folks from these locations, see what we found to eat and learn how these establishments have been able to survive all these years.


Of course, a book is coming along with the project - that will cover all of Arkansas's existing dairy bars and many of the places that share the spirit of these ice cream-loving edifices all over The Natural State. 

Sampling the chocolate malt at the Charleston Dairy Diner

The book, Arkansas Dairy Bars: Neat Eats and Cool Treats, will be available as a premium, a gift to subscribers of Arkansas PBS, when the show initially airs. It will be released for worldwide consumption in hardback on October 5th, 2021, with a paperback to follow on November 2nd.

I'm so thrilled to bring you this delightful part of the Arkansas culinary scene!


  1. I LOVE ice cream and my friend forwarded youR idea to me! I can't wait to learn more! I am making a list and will check these places out! HOW MUCH FUN WILL THIS BE!!!

  2. How do I purchase this book. Looks like a good road trip.


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