Credit: Megan Kirby

For ages eternal, the sign in the window of the Montrose Avenue Culver’s read “Coming Soon.” Every time I got off at that Brown Line stop, the false promise taunted me. Time must move differently for frozen custard magnates than it does for mere mortals.

Finally, it was announced: The new Culver’s location would open May 31, 2021—oh glorious day! I planned to show up to the celebration to learn the flavor of the day, but my heart harbored a bigger wish. I wanted to meet Scoopie.

Do you know Scoopie? He’s the Culver’s mascot, a sentient custard cone with a dull grin and no discernable personality. Other fast food mascots at least hint at interior lives. Ronald McDonald has an impish, winking approach. The Burger King is a noted pervert. But Scoopie is a blank slate, a creamy canvas to project our own desires. His blank eyes reveal nothing. No thoughts. Just custard. Will I ever know a peace like that?

To grow up in the midwest is to hold Culver’s in the highest regard. The Wisconsin-born fast food joint has now spread to 25 states, but it still feels like it belongs to us. When I first visited Culver’s on a Wisconsin Dells road trip in the late 90s, it blew my child-sized mind. I considered fast food brands as timeless entities we were born alongside, like folk songs, or income inequality. What a thrill, to find a fresh-faced restaurant that specialized in Butterburgers, cheese curds, and frozen custard—a staunch midwestern insistence that you should have dairy in your entrée, side, and dessert.

Until now, there were only two Culver’s locations in the city limits. From my north side apartment, both required CTA transfers. Over the years, I’ve grown skilled at tagging along on suburban car rides and cajoling my way into a Culver’s drive thru. A highlight of any road trip became scanning the exits for that blessed blue oval—a dangerous gamble for a 31-year-old who refuses to take a Lactaid.

The new location would be walking distance from my apartment. I immediately texted my siblings to coordinate an opening day meet-up. Family should stick together on historic days.

And I began fantasizing about meeting Scoopie. Maybe he would be cavorting out front, beckoning customers inside. Maybe Lori Lightfoot would show up and they would wield a giant pair of scissors together to cut the ceremonial ribbon. Whatever the case, he would surely take a photo with me, his biggest fan.

A confession: I’ve got a thing for fast food mascots. A framed Arby’s Oven Mitt hangs above my stove. A Hamburglar Halloween mask is tacked to my wall. Last winter, stoned on painkillers after a broken ankle surgery, I photoshopped myself in a series of pictures with Scoopie. They performed shockingly well on my Instagram story.

Credit: Megan Kirby

But when I checked the Culver’s website for any info on opening day festivities, I made a shocking discovery. Scoopie seems to be disappearing from their online presence. Instead, I found a punk-ass, glasses-wearing cheese curd named Curdis. (Ew.) Curdis keeps a blog on the Culver’s website, and even though it hasn’t been updated since 2019, I do consider him my professional rival.

In my alarm, I shot an inquiry out to the Culver’s corporate e-mail: “Will Scoopie attend the opening of the new Chicago location?” No response arrived.

Culver’s was born in 1984 in Sauk City, Wisconsin. The town is also the birthplace of August Derleth, publisher of H.P. Lovecraft and frequent contributor to the Cthulhu mythos. Scoopie fits firmly in my own midwestern mythology, but this information hinted at something more monstrous: a dripping dairy being with human eyes and grin. Maybe Scoopie got too strong.

Nevertheless, when the 31st arrived, I held out hope. But when we arrived at the youngest Culver’s in the world, there was very little fanfare. No cheers, no champagne, not even a very long line at the takeout window. The framed photos on the walls pictured barns shining bright under the Wisconsin sun.

“There he is!” my brother said, and I whirled around, expecting to see Scoopie ambling out of the back room with his skinny arms held out to me. But no, it was just a Scoopie plushie in a glass case, limp and lifeless.

As I grabbed my patty melt and chocolate malt to go eat in the park, I thought about how things always change. Jobs change. Seasons change. Sometimes a city has two Culver’s, and then it has three. Sometimes an aging human body can no longer handle an obscene amount of dairy—though it is brave to try.

But I felt the truth spread through me, as warm and viscous as butter spreading over a burger bun. Scoopie can never die. Because he lives forever in my heart.  v