The Dairy Barn
Tuesday-Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Nostalgia, Delicious Food & Ice Cream Make Alma’s Dairy Barn a Popular Summer Stop
A ringing cow bell on the door of the Dairy Barn in Alma signals another hungry guest seeking a hearty meal or a sweet treat.
It could be a fisherman coming in to cool off with a soft-serve ice cream cone after a day on Harlan County Lake, a local resident stopping in for a quick lunch, or a trucker taking a break as he travels down Highway 183. Sometimes, it’s large groups of diners — families on their way home from camping, ball teams and groups of teen-agers.
And, every once in a while, it’s someone stopping by to revisit the place where they first earned a paycheck or first tasted a crunch cone.
“I’m proud of this place,” owner Katherina (Kathy) Steinhauser said. “It’s my home. I love seeing kids smile when they get their ice cream cones.”
Walking through the door of the Dairy Barn is like stepping back in time. Old-fashioned “ice cream” chairs and vintage décor add charm to the cozy indoor dining room. A framed faded map of Disney’s Epcot hangs on the brown paneled walls. The map packs so much nostalgia that customers have tried to purchase it.
But, it’s even more nostalgic to eat outside and order from the outdoor walk-up window that workers slide open when orders are ready.
The Dairy Barn is so old-fashioned that you won’t find it on Facebook or the World Wide Web.
Yet, Kathy said 2017 is the Dairy Barn’s busiest year so far in the 10 years she and her husband, Cliff, have owned the business. She’s not sure how people hear about the Dairy Barn.
Maybe it’s word of mouth.
One summer, a Colorado couple stopped by and ordered the Big Kahuna sandwich, a grilled chicken breast topped with ham, Swiss cheese, grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce. They raved about the sandwich to their Colorado friends, who later traveled to the Dairy Barn just to get a taste of the Big Kahuna.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia.
“We’ve got grandmas coming in who said they worked here,” Kathy said. “People will just come in here and reminisce about this being their first job.”
Or, maybe visitors know that the Dairy Barn flavors are only available for a limited time. The restaurant is open mid-April through Labor Day. That’s when Kathy has enough help to keep it open and when there are large crowds from nearby Harlan County Lake.
Kathy said she and Cliff purchased the Dairy Barn from Marge Bantam 10 years ago because they wanted a place for their five teen-agers to work. They also own the Arrow Lodge across the highway from the Dairy Barn.
“Our kids needed a part-time job,” Kathy said. “Cliff just came over and talked to Marge to see if she wanted to sell it.”
She happened to say yes.
This summer, three of their five children are still in college and came home to work for the summer, along with other Alma teens and some adults.
Once the teens go back to school, help is limited. A few years ago, Kathy and Cliff decided to offer homemade pizza as a menu item. “Katz” pizza became wildly popular, but they soon realized it was too labor intensive to serve along with the other menu items. So, they stopped serving pizza in the summer but now open up three days a week during the winter (Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) to sell carry-out pizza in 22 combinations ranging from Hawaiian and Alfredo Delight to Polish Dog and Reuben. The crust is made from scratch at Sehnert’s Bakery in McCook.
Kathy’s dad was in the Air Force, and she lived much of her childhood in Germany. But, her family also lived in Japan and other countries, giving Kathy the chance to experience the flavors of many cultures. That may explain her desire to try preparing new foods and experiment with menu items.
For the past two summers, Kathy has offered a “Burger of the Week,” which is only available for that one week. Two of the burgers were so popular that they have earned a spot on the permanent menu: The Trucker, an Angus burger topped with bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, Pepper Jack cheese and BB sauce drizzled over smoked pork; and the Challenger, a ½-pound Angus burger topped with jalapenos, bacon, Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo and mustard. All burgers are served on a Brioche bun.
Other popular menu items are Cliff’s smoked pork sandwich, which is topped with a grilled onion and served with coleslaw, and the smoked brisket sandwich, which is topped with horsey sauce and Kathy’s German coleslaw on sourdough bread.
The menu is also kid friendly with good ol’ hamburgers, chicken strips, grilled cheese sandwiches and soda pop.
And, visitors with a sweet tooth will find unique and nostalgic combinations at the Dairy Barn. A root-beer float with soft-serve ice cream and bottled root beer hits the spot on a warm summer day. Or, there’s the popular banana split or the old- fashioned crunch cone, which is an ice cream cone topped with special toppings made of crushed peanut brittle and sprinkles. Shakes and malts mixed with candy or fruit toppings are also popular sweet treats.
As was said earlier, don’t go looking for the Dairy Barn on Facebook, Twitter or the Internet. Just search the old-fashioned way by picking up the phone and calling Kathy or her staff at (308) 928-2572 or by getting in the car and driving to Alma.