Martina and Álvaro León stand in the lobby of their newest Dairy Queen, under construction at 6550 S. Midvale Park Road at West Valencia Road. They also own the Dairy Queen at Tanque Verde and Kolb roads, and say they are the only Latino owners of Dairy Queens in Southern Arizona.


For Álvaro and Martina León, the American Dream lies at the corner of Valencia and Midvale.

The site will hold their second Dairy Queen restaurant, which is expected to open sometime in December in a bustling, predominantly immigrant section of town.

The couple say they are the only Latino owners of Dairy Queens in Southern Arizona.

Embarking with them in the enterprise will be 25 new employees, now training at the Leons' first Dairy Queen at Tanque Verde and Kolb roads, and their two teenage sons (both have learned their parents' craft at a young age).

"You have to love what you do," said Álvaro, as he watched construction workers toil away in the rush to complete the new building at Valencia and Midvale.

The story of how Álvaro and Martina - he's 43; she would rather not talk about age - became the first Latinos in Southern Arizona to own a Dairy Queen started when they first met at a barrio wedding party 19 years ago.

Álvaro, who is originally from Mexico City, was a University of Arizona student in the early 1990s, and Martina was then a schoolteacher in Nogales, Sonora. They married.

Álvaro got a chance to work at El Charro Restaurant (considered the longest-running Mexican restaurant in the country and a Tucson staple), where he says he diligently learned his craft with the help of owners Carlotta and Ray Flores.

From there he jumped to work at McDonald's, under the tutelage of José Canchola, the late patriarch of the Canchola family known for his long history of charity work and for establishing several restaurants in Tucson and Nogales.

The Leóns say the Floreses and the Cancholas were their mentors, whom they respect deeply.

Then, when a friend offered to sell them the Dairy Queen at Tanque Verde and Kolb, the Leóns jumped at the opportunity.

"Emulation is good. Take it and do something better," Álvaro recalled Canchola telling him.

"The Dairy Queen concept is simple. We love treating clients well," Álvaro added.

Southern Arizona's desert climate is tailor-made for cold treats, the Leóns said.

This is just the beginning, they hope. "We want to open up two or three more places," Álvaro said. "We want to keep making Tucson our home."

Contact reporter Joseph Treviño at or at 807-8029.