What’s in a name? Quite a mouthful when a restaurant’s name is “Home of the Train – Dairy Keen.” This Heber City institution has been a favorite stop for hamburgers and award-winning shakes for generations.
Dairy Keen got it’s start in 1946 when the Mawhinney family decided to make a go of the empty fast food restaurant that sat on their Main Street property. The sign in front said “Dairy Queen” and the least expensive way to get started was to alter the existing sign. Dairy Keen was the winner and a local tradition was born.
In 1984, the family again made a fateful decision when they decided to build a model railroad track along the ceiling around the restaurant’s perimeter. The owner wanted to “celebrate the history of the Heber Valley Railroad and the Denver Rio Grande Railway.”
It soon became a tradition for many passengers on the Heber Valley Railroad, then known as the Heber Creeper, to pay a visit to Dairy Keen after a ride on the train. This tradition continues today. We saw several of our fellow passengers at Dairy Keen after our recent trip on the Heber Valley Railroad.
The most recent renovation at Dairy Keen was completed in 1998, and it was then that the restaurant was officially re-named Home of the Train – Dairy Keen. An artist was hired to create a detailed replica of the Heber Valley for the model train and several model train engines are maintained and rotated.
For younger diners, the restaurant has a wooden train table and a coin-operated Harry Potter Hogwarts Express diorama inside the restaurant, and a train-themed children’s dining area on the patio. My son loved the patio train so much, he ate there alone while the rest of us kept an eye on him from the air-conditioned indoors.
So, is the food any good? It almost doesn’t matter if you have a child who loves trains, but we did like the food. It isn’t much different from the burgers and fries you might find at hometown restaurants anywhere in the United States, but it is better than the tradmarked, mass-produced flavor of the national chains. Breathe a sigh of relief, because like all fine restaurants in Utah, Dairy Keen does serve fry sauce.
I ordered the Train Burger, which is topped with ham, swiss, American cheese, and special sauce. It was a three-napkin sandwich, so request “easy on the sauce” if you don’t like it drippy. My son’s Jr. Cheeseburger had so much ketchup on it that he refused to take more than a few bites. My sister-in-law is a vegetarian and her family was able to choose between Veggi burgers, grilled cheese, and garden salads.
We ordered Dairy Keen’s award-winning shakes on our way out the door. We ate them in the shade of the city park across the street. Are they really the best in the State of Utah? It’s hard to mess up vanilla ice cream blended with cookies, but I finished every mouthful of my mint Oreo shake, despite being much too full already.
What’s in a name? A delicious hometown tradition.