Melodie Jordan-Shotto has spent a lifetime perfecting the menu at her family business, Mill City Dairy Bar.
The second-generation owner and her husband, James Shotto, took over the Lake Winola-area hot spot about five years ago from her parents, Esther and Wesley Jordan, who opened the business in 1963.
“When I tell people I’ve been here for 40 years, they look at me funny, but I really have,” Jordan-Shotto said.
Her father was a schoolteacher and lifeguard from Scranton when he married her mother, who was from the country where they opened up shop to have seasonal work during summers. It started as a small, single-room operation before expanding to have seating for up to 50 indoors. Over the following decades, the Dairy Bar became a staple among townies and a must-stop destination for annual visitors to the lake region.
“They were the face of it,” Jordan-Shotto said of her parents. “We called my mom the mayor of Mill City. There is no mayor, but she’s the closest thing to it.
“Our market isn’t just ‘local yokels.’ People make a special effort to come up this way. We pull from Pittston and Scranton and all over. These aren’t customers. These are our friends who come to visit us. I like watching the generations grow. Being here so long, being part of the Mill City-Lake Winola vibe, I love seeing people grow and flourish.”
The original draw of the Dairy Bar — its hard- and soft-serve ice cream — still is a mainstay of the business thanks to seasonal sundaes topped with fresh fruit sauces sourced locally and made by Esther Shotto, such as peach, blackberry and raspberry.
“It’s limited because my mom makes it fresh based on what’s in season,” Jordan-Shotto said.
Frequent visitors also look forward to weekly featured flavors throughout the summer. Recently, Jordan-Shotto offered an eggnog flavor as part of a “Christmas in July” promotion, for which she donated a canned good for every cone pulled.
Beyond the dairy treats, the hearty food menu has expanded over the years, too. Esther Shotto still comes in every day to help prepare some of her classic dishes, such as the Chili Dogs she’s famous for that are based on a family recipe that goes back at least three generations.
“She’s 83 and still makes the sauce,” her daughter said. “She taught me a couple years ago, but she’s still the best.”
But Jordan-Shotto has some popular requests to her name, too. The No. 1 seller at the Dairy Bar is the Hot Wing Hoagie, for which she simmers the special sauce for at least six hours.
“It’s a very unique sauce. I hate the vinegary bite that some of them have,” Jordan-Shotto said. “Mine is sweet but hot.”
Most of the items served fresh are made from scratch, from the dressings to the Macaroni Salad to the barbecue smoked on-premises over 50 pounds of apple and cherry wood each week. Other aspects are prepared with local produce, such as the Italian Hoagie made with Murazzi Provisions meats.
The Dairy Bar’s season extends from April or May to early September, all depending on the weather. Guests can enjoy their cones and meals inside or on the extensive property, which includes a big playground with toys, lawn sculptures and outdoor seating. Jordan-Shotto purposely caters to families, especially those with young children.
“We try to really appeal to kids. Being a mom with a picky kid, I want lots of options on the menu for them, and to be a place where mom and dad like what they can eat, too,” she said. Feeding the customers she loves as friends is an act of caring on Jordan-Shotto’s part, and one she envisions her own toddler son, Jimmy, carrying on when he grows up.
“Food and eating bring comfort. It’s an expression of my heart,” she said. “Hopefully, this will be (Jimmy’s) legacy one day.”