Ice cream and cold delights were abound at Sioux Falls' Zesto Shop: Looking Back

Zesto opened the shop on April 5, 1950, and sold cones, shakes, and other delights over the next 29 years.
Zesto opened the shop on April 5, 1950, and sold cones, shakes, and other delights over the next 29 years.

Those of a certain age from the Hilltop area of Sioux Falls, recall with fondness, the ice cream treats served by the Zesto Shop at the southeast corner of 10th and Cliff. Zesto opened the shop on April 5, 1950, and sold cones, shakes, and other delights over the next 29 years.

The Zesto Shop, a franchise, was the creation of the Taylor Freezer Company of Beloit, Wisconsin. Taylor Freezer Co., a manufacturer of soft-serve ice cream machines, was owned by Louis Austin Merritt Phelan, an inventor with quite a history. He was born on February 10, 1884 in Saint Louis. He spent his life working with inventors and invented several game-changing devices himself. He worked at such companies as American Car and Foundry, Monsanto Chemicals, Allis Chalmers, and Goodyear. On his own, he invented the mercury switch, an electrical switch that allowed power to flow only when mercury was making contact with two leads. The switch is used in thermostats and other devices to this day. Phelan perfected the switch for years until he felt completely sure that the electrodes within would not degrade with use. The switches were sold through his company, Absolute Con-Tac-Tor, as early as 1920.

In 1928, Phelan took over the Taylor Freezer Corporation. He loved the ice cream dispensers they were making, but felt that he could improve on them. The result was the Zest-O-Mat ice cream machine, which performed so well that it could clearly be used in a franchise of ice cream shops. The Zesto Shop was born. The first location was opened in 1948 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Before long, Zesto locations dotted the midwest.

In 1948, Sioux Falls realtor Darrel Drake saw an ad for Zesto franchise opportunities and jumped at it. This was the same year that Chet Cooke opened the first Dairy Queen in Sioux Falls. The Zesto Store was built by local contractor Bert Barber at the southeast corner of 10th and Cliff. This location was just across from Nelson Park and Drake Springs pool; a prime spot for those out enjoying hot summer weather.

Zesto was operated by Elmer F. Hanson and his wife, Gladys. Elmer worked most of the year as a petroleum equipment mechanic. With the Zesto only being open during the warm months, it was helpful to have other forms of income. For years, Zesto would be opened in the spring and close in the fall, following the demand and school schedules of their customers. In the winter months leading up to the holidays, Zesto would serve as a Christmas tree lot.

In 1955, Taylor Freezer Co. abandoned the franchise business, leaving all of the stores as independent entities to fend for themselves. The Central Zesto Association was formed so that Zesto owners and managers could gather, compare notes, and share tips and tricks to further their businesses. The first year, Elmer Hanson was named president.

Over the years, Zesto added additional treats to the menu, such as malts in twenty different flavors and dip cones in eight interesting flavors, including orange and peanut butter. Hot dogs and barbecue sandwiches were served as well.

Elmer Hanson retired in 1960, but the Zesto would go on under new management. Louis Phelan died at 87 years of age in October, 1971. After Zesto, he added commercial Broasters to his list of inventions.

The Sioux Falls Zesto Shop quietly closed in 1979, though others in the state remained, and still exist. They can be found in Pierre, Brookings, Mitchell, and Watertown. If you get a hankering for some of that smooth Zesto ice cream, consider planning a road trip on a warm day.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Looking Back: Recalling ice cream at Sioux Falls' Zesto Shop