The Rant and friends of the Rant are sharing their Dairy Bar experiences today after learning the news of a fire that gutted the popular Sanford restaurant early this morning. We’d love to post yours as well. Either comment on this story or email Please include your name.

The way it should be

It wasn’t just the milkshake. It was the man who made the milkshake.

OK, the milkshake was good. Using chocolate ice cream AND chocolate milk and THEN a dash of chocolate syrup will do that. That’s how Paul Freedle made the milkshake. And he did it that way because he knew my daughter Allison liked chocolate milkshakes.

“Oh, I’ve got a milkshake for you,” he said one day to her as her face lit up. “Chocolate on chocolate. The way it should be.”

Freedle recently sold the Fairview Dairy Bar. Yet there he was on Friday night, working the tables and taking orders as most of the cast – and their parents – from the opening night of The Temple Theatre’s summer conservatory of “Aristocats” flooded the Dairy Bar, as is the annual tradition.

Freedle knew they were coming. So he was there. The place hopping, a little girl still in cat makeup looked up to Paul and asked when they could sing.

“Wait a few more minutes,” Freedle said. “Then I’ll give you the signal. When you see me hold up my index finger, SING.”

As the show’s songs rang through the restaurant lifted by the voices of 30-plus theatre kids, Freedle smiled.

“It’s the kids,” he said. “The kids…”

Freedle’s voice trailed off as the song grew louder. He couldn’t be heard anymore. And he couldn’t have been happier.

— by Alex Podlogar

Welcome to Sanford

Early February 2007, and it’s my first day of work as the new editor of The Sanford Herald.

I know nothing about Sanford, of course, except for what I learned during my previous visit from Louisiana for my job interview. But even during that visit, I learned about the Dairy Bar and those loaded cheese fries. It’s a Sanford institution. So are the fries.

So when one of my reporters mentioned the Dairy Bar in my first news meeting on my first day in a new city and a new state, I was all ears.

“The Dairy Bar’s going smoke free. This is pretty big news.”

Everyone loves the Dairy Bar.

So we ran with it. And, no doubt, it was a popular story. It got comments. People sent letters. It was a great way to start a new job — running a story that affected just about the whole community.

I’ve been to the Dairy Bar countless times in the seven years since. I dig their all-the-way burgers and cherry cokes with real cherries and syrup … my wife the fried chicken. All three of my children have been there now, and the older two knows the Dairy Bar means hot dogs and ice cream.

I live within ear shot of the Dairy Bar. I suppose nose shot, too, as we woke to the strong smell of smoke in our house this morning.

I hope it comes back soon. Sanford needs the Dairy Bar — a place so comfortable and familiar to my family, that we can’t imagine a Sanford without it.

— by Billy Liggett 

The heart of Sanford

The Dairy Bar is the most uniquely “Sanford” thing that exists, and for most of my childhood, I thought that’s all there was in Sanford.

I grew up about 40 minutes away in Robbins, and “going to town” on Saturdays often involved meeting my aunt Jo, who lived in Sanford, at the Dairy Bar for lunch. I looked forward to those milkshakes.

After college, I landed my first writing job in Sanford, and spent many a lunch at the Dairy Bar. I interviewed the owners, Paul and Kathy, many times in my role as a business reporter, because any story on the pulse of the town had to start with the Dairy Bar. And even though they weren’t the happiest to see me coming most of the time, Paul always poured me a Coke and sat down with me, answering whatever I asked.

All the way to the last time I went in there a few weeks ago, Paul went out of his way to speak to me and the kids. That made me feel special, but I’m pretty sure he did that to everybody.

The Dairy Bar — where political deals are made for the town. It’s where youth ball teams gather after a big game. It’s where the whole town ate after church on Sundays. It’s the first place you told out-of-towners in search of a quick bite to eat to go during a little league tournament.

I was lucky enough to take my kids there. Sure, there are chain restaurants in town, but there’s something special about a Mickey Mouse pancake at the Dairy Bar for a 6 year old, and a first dip of a chicken strip in honey mustard for a 1 year old. There’s something wonderful about meeting Pawpaw there on a Tuesday night so he could spoil the kids for an hour. There’s something special about explaining who Marilyn Monroe was to an 8 year old boy.

This is truly a sad day Sanford. The Dairy Bar was Sanford. I hope they rebuild, because without it, the town has no heart.

— by Jonathan Owens

Back to the Future

The first time I heard of the Dairy Bar, I was 16 and had just moved to Sanford. It was 1996.

I immediately thought of the malt shop in “Back to the Future” where Biff Tannen picks a fight with Marty McFly. I wasn’t far off. The Dairy Bar isn’t a 50s-style diner. It’s a diner from the 50s. It’s been open for 60 years – a feat in any business, much less the restaurant business, where fickle publics and low margins can shut you down almost at any time. You can’t live in Sanford for more than a month and not have some story about the Dairy Bar.

One time, a friend of mine laughed so hard there that he threw up on his plate. I remember the first time I saw corn dog bites on the menu.

“Good gravy,” I thought. “Can this be legal?”

Most recently, I was there with my wife and her parents for breakfast. Or maybe I had stopped in by myself at lunchtime to sit at the counter and see who I saw. It’s hard to remember the last time you were at a place when that place is so central to where you live.

When I heard Steve Brewer was buying the restaurant from its most recent owners, I thought there probably wasn’t a better match in Sanford than Steve Brewer and the Dairy Bar. Steve understands the restaurant business, he understands his town, and he understands the Dairy Bar.

I hope for his sake (and for the previous owners, who literally spent their lives there) that repairs can be made and that this can be another chapter for the Dairy Bar – and not the end.

— by Gordon Anderson

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