Happy Anniversary Dairy Bar: The History of One of LJ’s Best Burger Joints

“To me you haven’t been to Lake Jackson if you haven’t visited the Dairy Bar. It has become a landmark of our history.” This sentiment held by one of the current owners of LJ’s beloved Dairy Bar, Mary Harnden, is one that has been felt by locals for decades. For nearly 70 years, Dairy Bar has been serving up delicious burgers, fries, chicken, and a plethora of frozen treats to the Brazosport Area. In this blog, we’ll walk you through the history of this legendary joint and how it’s stood the test of time.

The Dairy Bar was founded in 1951 by Lake Jackson ‘it’ couple Ernest “Slim” and Dorothy Lee Harnden. A World War II Navy veteran who had served at Pearl Harbor in the aftermath of the bombing, Slim founded the restaurant upon locating to Lake Jackson and built a life for his family on the great food and community spirit. The establishment started small but strong with a drive-up and walk-up style restaurant that Slim ran while Dorothy handled HR, payroll, and bookkeeping. Back then the restaurant was in a wood-frame building, and that part of Plantation was considered to be the outskirts of town – that has certainly changed now!


Dairy Bar built the Masonry building that you see today in the 70s, which is at the same location and is now surrounded by development. It’s co-owned by their daughter, Mary, who works to keep the integrity of the business and her family’s legacy and love for the community of Lake Jackson alive. The restaurant today usually offers sit down service in addition to its drive-thru line and walk-up window, but has had to return to its roots in the wake of Covid-19. By embracing this nostalgic shift, Dairy Bar has successfully been able to keep all of its workers employed during the pandemic.


This accomplishment is very much in alignment with the restaurant’s community values. “The walls of the restaurant are covered with articles about Lake Jackson and pictures of the community, as well as pictures of sports teams and such sponsored by Dairy Bar and Slim, Dorothy, and their family over the years,” says Fran Hammond, a friend of the family.


While this time has certainly been challenging for all restaurants, including Dairy Bar, it has persevered and maintained its standards while doing so. Meat production prices and availability in particular have been affected by the Coronavirus, which can be cause for concern among restaurants like Dairy Bar who only purchase high-quality, fresh beef to make its burgers, taco meat, steak fingers, and more. But thanks to skillful management, great local suppliers, and expert and thoughtful ownership by Mary Harnden and Sherlyn Beauchamp, Dairy Bar has been able to continue to offer outstanding customer service.


Now we’d be negligent not to talk about one of the most important reasons Dairy Bar is so popular: THE FOOD. The menu is packed with tasty, drive-thru style American classics. The restaurant grinds its own fresh, top-grade beef for its burgers and other offerings and follows the restaurant’s original, nearly 70-year-old recipe for its taco and chili meat because it’s just that good! It offers two types of classic fries to complete your meal: seasoned steak fries and traditional crinkle cut, as well as onion rings made with homemade breading. And, you can’t leave Dairy Bar without a frozen treat. Its homemade chocolate and vanilla soft-serve and rotating sherbet flavors are truly iconic.


If this made your mouth water or warmed your heart, head over to Dairy Bar to be a part of the almost 70 year old legacy yourself! One thing’s for sure, Dairy Bar will always be there to call you home to Lake Jackson. 


202 Plantation Dr, Lake Jackson, TX, 77566

(979) 297-3256 |

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