Dusty’s Dairy Bar is a vacation destination at Misquamicut Beach and the man behind the name and the business is a living legend. He was born with the name Willis Edgecomb so it’s kind of a funny story on how he came to be called Dusty. It all started with a girl he met at a roller dome back in his dating days. Her former boyfriend was called Dusty, and so she passed that name along to Willis. And even though he didn’t get the girl, he got the name, which stuck and he used that name for his business Dusty’s Dairy Bar that he owned for more than 40 years. Now at 97 years old, Dusty’s blue eyes sparkle when he talks about the dairy bar. It’s clear that he loves the life he has built for himself in the Westerly community. He just retired about six years ago from his dairy days and reflects upon his business he was so dedicated to and the life he created.
Dusty is a disappearing but treasured part of military history as a WWII veteran, he went into the service right after high school, as part of the Army Corps bomb disposal squad serving three years, most of it in combat duty. Private Willis Edgecomb of Limestone ME was awarded a meritorious citation plaque in serving with the 614th ordnance ammunition company for superior performance of achievement and duration in 1944.
“I guess I must have done something right, I’m damn lucky to be here,” said Dusty. “I just went on with life when I came home. I don’t talk about the war.”
After the war was over and he came back home as he put it “with five cents in my pocket” he went to work for C.B. Cottrell and Sons Co. on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck.
“I did everything there,” said Dusty. “I worked for 55 cents an hour cleaning floors and I drove a truck, I went on the assembly floor and set up presses, and spent 17 years in production control.”
His strong work ethic and self-motivation led him to own something of his own even while still working at Cottrell.
“I could have gone to college but I made up my mind that I didn’t have an education and I had to do something,” said Dusty. He got his start in the ice cream business by leasing what was called Dairyland back in the day, located across from Providence Coal Fired Pizza on Franklin Street, and even though the small ice cream shop is no longer there, it gave Dusty his start and inspiration for his dairy bar soon to follow.
His strong entrepreneurial drive led him to open up Dusty’s Dairy Bar in 1946 at the original location of Dunn’s Corner and later he moved the business to Atlantic Avenue on Misquamicut Beach. He remembers on opening day that town officials showed up and stated his business was the start of a new project. And from then on it was business as usual for Dusty and his family. Just a couple of years in with Dusty’s he built the Blue Star Motel on Post Road. He put his wife in charge of running the motel while they moved into the house next door.
“I would leave Cottrells at 3:30 pm, go home for an hour, have dinner and then go to the dairy bar,” said Dusty. “I did that my whole life; I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Besides being dedicated to his businesses, his other passion was flying. He has a picture of himself standing next to the first plane he bought, a 1975 Bonanza F33A. He learned to fly it out of a small community WWII airport hangar in what is now Saltwater Vineyard in Stonington. He used to leave his dairy bar on a Friday night and fly his plane down to Pompano Beach, Florida in the wintertime, where his wife was, spend the weekend and be back at work on Monday.
“I just kept working,” he said. “I worked hard and I lived a pretty good life, I guess.”
Dusty grew up during a time when his solemn word and a handshake sealed a business deal and a mutual trust between community members formed a bond. His business philosophy was smart and simple; “keep it clean, be honest, and keep your word.”
He had people all over the world working for him, many young students from Europe who came for the summer and ended up working for him each season at the dairy bar.
“I liked meeting people from Europe,” he said. “When I closed, I went and visited them all, I knew all the people.”
One of his young workers recently visited him; she is 76 years old now but still remembers how nice he and his wife were to her while she worked at Dusty’s.
“It’s been a great business for me,” said Dusty.
Phil Orzell, who Dusty calls his wingman and friend, used to bring his grandchildren to Misquamicut Beach to go on the water slide and then to Dusty’s for ice cream every Sunday. Back then the boys barely came up to Dusty’s knees and now they are all over six feet tall and still have fond memories of their Dusty Dairy Bar days.
These days you can find Dusty relaxing with a glass of wine and his friend Phil down at The Andrea. He still enjoys going back to his dairy bar and meeting people there but he still won’t reveal to anyone the recipe for his famous ice cream. His favorite flavor of all his six soft serves? Pistachio and he likes a strawberry milkshake too.