Sidney Dairy Barn Owner Dennis Riggs stops a former employee who came by to get ice cream on the day before she gets married and gets teary-eyed.
“Do you remember the three things for happiness?” he asked.
“Something…” she said.
“Always have something to look forward to both near and far,” he starts. “Always enjoy what you do. And here’s where I’m going to tear up; find someone to love you back,” he said with a shaky voice.
In Sidney, IL, a rural bedroom community just outside of Urbana, Riggs has been the face of the Sidney Dairy Barn for 24 years now. Each summer he hires on 14 students who quickly become his kin.
“These are my kids,” he said.
Riggs, a lifelong Sidney resident, who is also a four-generation farmer, grabbed ice cream with his mother at what was then known as the Sidney Dairy Bar as a child.
“I’ve eaten here for all 54 years (it’s been open),” he said. My mom and I used to make homemade ice cream on the farm, once a month. All the rest of the time if we needed a treat, we’d come up here to the Sidney Dairy Bar. So when I had a chance to buy the place I thought, ‘Hey that’s a win-win.’”
Riggs spent the first two years fine-tuning the machine and the mix they’d serve under his ownership.
“I never serve anything unless I like it,” he said.
And with staples like chocolate and vanilla alongside crowd favorites like wild cherry, fresh strawberry, cappuccino, peppermint, mint, orange and pumpkin served on a seasonal basis, the Sidney Dairy Barn has become a destination stop for University of Illinois visitors, local nursing homes and school groups.
“We have people drive from Gibson City, Gifford and Paris just to get the lemon,” he said. “They will take home 4-quarts and then take some for the road.”
“I’ve taken ice cream to church board or town board meetings where there is controversy and there’s something about when everyone is sitting around with a cup of ice cream, it reduces tension.”
He also enjoys hearing that the product the Sidney Dairy Barn serves helps people who are having trouble eating.
“I’ve had two cancer patients say the black cherry is something they could taste, and I’ve had people who have their mouth wired shut after an auto accident live on milkshakes for two weeks,” he said.
Providing customers with a quality product is also high on Riggs’ list. A farmer who works the land just six miles south of Sidney, he understands the important role farmers play in making the ice cream.
“Our product is about true agriculture as you can get,” he said. “That milk came from a cow just a few days ago.”
The milk is brought in from Fox Valley Farms in Elgin, IL.
“They do a tremendous job of creating a product exactly how I want it,” Riggs said.
And with a rich, thick, 94% fat free ice cream, the product is exactly what customers want. For Riggs, it all comes back to the people.
It’s not unlike him to hop behind the window and take orders.
“But it slows down the whole process because I talk to everyone,” he said. “I like it all. I even take the trash out. I don’t mind doing it because I usually talk to people while I’m working.”
Building that relationship, patrons often think of Riggs when they are on vacation. That is how the Sidney Dairy Barn got all of the stuffed cows that line the ordering window; people bring the animals to Riggs.
With a small grass pasture and a stream right behind the behind, eating at the Sidney Dairy Barn feels just like your on the farm.
“I tell people you come into Sidney from the west and we are the first ice cream shop on the right,” he said.