The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Dane’s Dairy transitions to new ownership

Dane’s Dairy, a beloved ice cream business in Iowa City, transfers to new management under new members with a long history to the Dane family.
Isabella Tisdale
Joshua Luerkens , the new owner of Dane’s Dairy is seen in front of Dane’s Dairy in Iowa City on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

After 64 years in the Dane family, Iowa City ice cream shop Dane’s Dairy, will pass on to a new generation of owners.

Donna Dane, the store’s first owner, recently decided she was ready to retire and sell the business. The new owners, Joshua Luerkens and his wife Mariah Ritter, share a longtime connection to Dane’s and are working to maintain the local legacy of the drive-in ice cream shop.

Luerkens and Ritter have both worked for the Dane family previously. Jim Dane, Donna Dane’s brother, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan she purchased the store from her parents in 2009. After 64 years, the Dane family sold Dane’s Dairy to Luerkens in January.

“I am so glad to pass on the torch of Dane’s Dairy to Joshua’s family. Mariah was a former manager and helped us out many times. They have kept Dane’s Dairy products and menu the same. The store is in good hands,” Donna Dane wrote in an email to the DI.

Dane’s Dairy, located at 1430 Willow Creek Court, is a popular ice cream shop that has served Iowa City since 1960.

Jim Dane said his father, John Dane, originally opened Dane’s Dairy using ingredients from the Dane family farm. It offered the community milk, cream, eggs, butter, bread, and cottage cheese, some of which were also used to make the shop’s ice cream.

“Our father felt the increase of transportation costs affecting the direct milk sales and daily commute to the farm was too far, so he built Dane’s Dairy along Highway 1 SW,” Jim Dane said. “Once he opened the store, adding soft serve ice cream to the menu made sense.”

By the late 1960s, the store focused on selling soft serve because competing with the large grocery store chains became unprofitable for them, Jim Dane said.

Luerkens said he worked on the Danes’ farm when he was in college during the early 2000s. He worked as a farmhand and developed a relationship with the family during that time. By 2010, Luerkens said Donna Dane took over Dane’s Dairy after her parents, John and Allie Dane, had both passed away.

Luerkens said the Dane family explored different options when considering new ownership. He said Donna Dane initially considered transitioning ownership to her daughter. However, this was ultimately not possible because she does not live in Iowa City anymore.

Once Donna Dane started looking outside the family, Luerkens recalled a conversation he had with her years ago where he told her he’d be interested if she ever sold the company. Donna Dane reached out in the middle of 2023 and they began discussing the potential move.

“The primary workforce at Dane’s are high school kids, and we want to continue that, and so we want to be extremely involved in the community, both from an employee standpoint and a philanthropic standpoint,” Luerkens said. “We want to continue to give to the community and engage with it.”

Ritter also emphasized her interest in Dane’s Dairy and how meaningful it is to her and her family.

“I worked there for many, many years as a teenager and in my first years of college. I was the manager when I came back in the summers,” Ritter said. “My grandparents and my parents knew the Danes growing up being local farmers, and that’s part of the reason I wanted to work there.”

In the beginning, Ritter said Donna Dane wanted her to take over Dane’s Dairy, but Ritter didn’t think it would work because of her job as a school teacher in Iowa City and her husband working in Cedar Rapids.

“At first I was like, no way, I have my job, three kids and I love helping, but there’s no way I could pull that aside and be a full-time business owner,” Ritter said.

However, she also knew she could not let Dane’s Dairy go under, so they jumped in to take ownership.

Ritter also shared the importance of what Dane’s Dairy has been for the community and the backbone that has helped it thrive.

“The fact that Dane’s is from a farmer family and relies so much on the farm community just shows how much it is still needed even amid urbanization,” Ritter said. “Those are its roots, and I want it to stay that way.”

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About the Contributor
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.