Look inside the long-shuttered Dairy King in Delta’s renovation into a short-term rental

Courtesy Photo
The old Dairy King sign.

You can still get ice cream at 1558 N. Highway 50 in Delta. You’ll just have to reserve a room first. 

The Dairy King property at the northern entrance to town was vacant for about a decade-and-a-half. But, the former carhop eatery founded in the 1950s has evolved to fit the modern Colorado economy as a short-term rental. 

“I've just driven by that property for the last, you know, 20-something years. And it has been vacant and vacant and vacant,” said Scott Elkins, who purchased it with a friend. “It’s such an iconic, cool building. We just felt like we needed to do something kind of neat with it. I'm not in the restaurant business, so that was not my forte. And, unfortunately, in these small towns, commercial (real estate) sometimes just doesn't pay. Just being honest. I hate to be the bearer of bad news.” 

Elkins’ partner in the deal travels around the state for hockey, which prompted the idea for short-term rental. The property — a 1,810-square-foot building on a little less than an acre — sold in February 2021 for $110,000, according to Delta County assessors' records. Those same records note $252,000 in improvements in the last year. 

Courtesy Photo
The renovated interiors of the Dairy King.
Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Elkins said that is “unfortunately” accurate as to what it took to remodel the space into a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom vacation rental featuring mini golf, a batting cage and the arcade games from the original store. 

“Our budget was about $120,000 and we just blew past that. I mean, I spent about a quarter million dollars, cash. So yeah, we dump a lot of money into small towns,” Elkins said with a laugh.

The restaurant had been in the Huffington family for generations. Verla Huffington and her husband, Bonsall Huffington, opened the business in the 1950s. A lot of Delta County marriages can trace their origins back to the Dairy King, said Judy Huffington. 

“So many people met their spouses there, and I didn't realize how many, but quite a few around Delta did,” Huffington said. 

Count her among those whose nuptials wouldn’t have been possible without ice cream. 

“That's where I met my husband, Scott Huffington. His dad owned it. And so we've been together 42 years now. The whole family's worked there many, many times,” she said. “You know, if you show up and they're having a big rush, of course you're gonna step in and help too.” 

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An old photo of the Dairy King.

Verla died in 2018, according to her obituary in the Delta County Independent. That same obituary notes that, in addition to their three children, the couple fostered more than 29 foster children. 

“Quite a few have come by on their way through town here and there over the years,” Huffington said. “A lot have come by lately saying, ‘I remember your mom,’ to Scott. And we don't know them, you know, but they still find us and track us down.” 

The Huffington imprint can still be seen on the property. In fact, sometimes it even sticks its nose over the fence, Elkins said. 

“Their cattle are right there. They, you know, used to run cattle for the burgers, obviously of the Dairy King. And their dairy obviously supplied the milk for the shakes and malts and stuff,” Elkins said. 

Courtesy Photo
The pre-renovation exterior of the Dairy King.
Courtesy Photo
The renovated exterior of the Dairy King.

The proximity allows Scott Huffington to keep an eye on his family’s roadside legacy. Judy said that, for the sake of her husband and his history with the business, it’s best that the property moved into a different line of work. That allows them to appreciate the homage to the old malt stand without feeling the need to hop behind the grill. 

“It [would be] kind of hard for my husband to look up there every day and, see a restaurant, he probably would freak out more. ‘Oh my gosh, you know, they're not doing it right,’” Judy said.

Elkins said bookings have been robust since the short-term rental opened, which he credits to a boom taking place in smaller towns on Colorado’s Western Slope. And, with each of those bookings, guests can get free ice cream. 

No guarantees on finding a future spouse.