Early on a warm Friday evening, four youngsters exchange grass-cutting money for cold treats at Dari Point near downtown Delaware. One of them - Ross Maher-Jones, 13 - goes with a "Smurf" cone, a popular choice made of blue-raspberry soft-serve sherbet and garnished with candy eyes and a marshmallow nose. He sticks out his tongue - in a rich Smurf-like shade.
Early on a warm Friday evening, four youngsters exchange grass-cutting money for cold treats at Dari Point near downtown Delaware.
One of them - Ross Maher-Jones, 13 - goes with a "Smurf" cone, a popular choice made of blue-raspberry soft-serve sherbet and garnished with candy eyes and a marshmallow nose.
He sticks out his tongue - in a rich Smurf-like shade.
The owner of the roadside stand buys 12 cases of candy eyeballs annually, with each case containing 2,000 eyes.
The tiny interior of the seasonal attraction boasts a menu board suggesting Flavor Burst and Krunch Kote upgrades. Framed pictures of former employees and their various college destinations line the walls.
Toddlers whine. Appliances whir.
The root-beer float ordered by Ross' friend Amber Cromlish is so large that the 10-year-old needs two hands to hold it.
Compared with the new Dairy Queen that lies 2 miles away, Dari Point seems untouched by time.
"I don't worry about competition," said 53-year-old proprietor Jim Ballinger, who bought the place in 1999.
Since then, he has added items such as house-made pulled pork and a "Papa Smurf" cone hybrid bearing a cherry-shell-dipped hat and whipped-cream beard.
"If we do things right, we'll be good," he said.
Such establishments are relics of sorts: They don't post calorie counts or farm sourcing. Nothing in their offerings is organic. They don't use Twitter feeds or TV commercials to drum up business. Some don't have listed phone numbers.
When a nearby Little League game wraps up, their lines grow especially long.
The vendors open their doors - or, more probable, walk-up windows - sometime in the spring and close in September (or, if the weather holds, October).
Their names, too, are quaint: Eskimo Queen in Plain City; Twist and Shake in Centerburg; Dairy Isle, with huts in Heath and Newark; Corner Cones in Marengo.
In food pricing and shop decor, they are worlds apart from the haute, hyper-local blends of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and the upscale parlor chain Graeter's - never mind the trendy places peddling self-serve, top-your-own fat-free yogurt.
Sometimes, the only way to go is cheap vanilla soft-serve.
"There's something about the old style; it's hard to explain," said 31-year-old Aaron Wilson, who with wife Meghan and their two young daughters bypassed fancier options last week en route to Creme Corner in Sunbury.
"You know you like it."
Added Meghan, 28: "It's kind of junky, but it's the best stuff."
Junky, of course, is relative.
"These formulas have been around since the 1930s," said Ron Potts, vice president and general manager of Ohio Processors Inc. in London, Ohio - a soft-serve manufacturer and a division of Instantwhip, a dairy-product giant based in Grandview Heights.
"It's a good, quality recipe. Why change it?"
Liquid is pasteurized at 160 degrees Fahrenheit and homogenized with 3,100 pounds of pressure before being shipped in 2.5-gallon bags. The substance contains 5 to 6 percent butterfat - a lesser amount, Potts said, than hard ice cream.
It tastes like childhood.
Or just yesterday.
Teens often work the evening shift without an adult in sight. Customers ask for "just a small," but a cone's contents consistently tower.
No one, not even the owners, knows when such community pillars first opened. They just seemed to have always been there, changing hands through the years - immune to population shifts, food trends and inflation.
"Our prices are decent enough," said Jesse Pace, whose South Side employer - Cook & Son-Pallay Funeral Home - in 2009 purchased a former Dairy Queen on Parsons Avenue, re-christening the shop as Dairy Corner.
"We took 50 cents off everything. I think that helps a lot in this neighborhood."
Creme Corner owner Paul Martindale has seen scores of young people come and go. He has employed about 90 of them since buying the store in 2004.
The Far North Side resident, 50, prides himself on teaching a strong work ethic.
"We'll be two minutes away from closing, and you see all these cars coming in," said Martindale, who also owns a Galena soft-serve shop named Sticky Fingers.
"The kids are ready to go home, and I say: 'Nope, turn the machines back on. Customers are here.'"
Out on a Friday-night date (or maybe just chilling) at the Hilltop Dairy Twist, Sydney Alexander recently savored a cone of peanut-butter soft-serve as much as the sights and sounds.
"We wanted a small, local spot," said Alexander, a 20-year-old Ohio State University student and native of tiny Castalia, near Sandusky. She had found the West Side business via a Web search.
"It reminds me of home."
Brenda Malloy has owned and operated the soft-serve shop since her husband, Dale, bought it 17 years ago (without consulting her first, she noted, but with the intention that the couple could have winters off).
He died, and she now lives closer to the store - which offers a staggering 40 flavors of soft-serve, including cantaloupe, maple nut, pumpkin and rum.
Fried cauliflower is served, as are Frito-and-chili "walking tacos."
Only cash is accepted, of course.
The Dairy Twist has a drive-through now, and the city finally repaired a crumbling sidewalk out front.
One summer seems to mirror the previous: Cones melt too fast in the heat. A child sports soft-serve all over his chin. Napkins are too thin and small to win the battle.
"It's part of the fixture here - the same people over and over," said Malloy, 63.
"I think it's about the same."