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National Restaurant Association - After blizzard, S.D. Dairy Queen operators rally behind cattlemen

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After blizzard, S.D. Dairy Queen operators rally behind cattlemen

The blizzard’s impact was so significant that weather forecasters gave it a name: Winter Storm Atlas.

The Oct. 4 blizzard dumped 3-4 feet of snow on South Dakota, a nearly unheard of amount for an autumn storm. The economic impact of the storm has been felt across the state. Many restaurants were forced to close for three days to two weeks due to power outages, and those that didn’t have backup generators lost product. But the damage the storm caused to area cattle herds is perhaps its most visible and damaging impact. It’s estimated that 15,000 cattle died in the storm, a devastating amount in a region where the economy is driven by agriculture.

The full extent of the damage still isn’t known. But even today, nearly a month after the storm, the carcasses of dead cattle still dot the landscape in parts of the state, said Shawn Lyons, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, which represents the state’s restaurants.

Days after the storm, Dairy Queen franchisee Lonnie Heier saw some ranchers working as he drove through the city of Martin. He saw an opportunity to help.

“I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I grew up in a small town, and I know what cattle ranchers go through year in and year out with weather, prices and everything else,” said Heier, who owns Dairy Queen stores in Martin and Eagle Butte, S.D. “I know that many are not insured. I started thinking about it, and I thought it would be no different than both of my stores burning down. I’d be out of business unless somebody helped me.”

Heier got in touch with Tara Knapp, who owns a Dairy Queen in Belle Fourche, S.D., about doing a fundraiser to help cattle ranchers in the state, and the two worked with a Dairy Queen marketing director to include all 34 stores currently open in the state. From Nov. 4 to Nov. 10, franchisees will donate a dollar for every burger sold to the Rancher Relief Fund, established by the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association. The goal is to raise $40,000, Knapp said. 

The business community has pulled together in the blizzard’s wake, Lyons said. Many restaurants that were closed after the storm donated unused food to area shelters. Prairie Berry Winery & Restaurant in Rapid City is donating $2 to the Rancher Relief Fund for every bottle of their Nothing’s Sacred wine sold.

“One thing about South Dakota is that when disaster strikes, there’s a real pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our members in the restaurant industry. The [cattlemen] have lost part of their income, but so have the restaurants. We’re all in this together, and I think you’re seeing the industry do what it can.”

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