9 Things You Didn’t Know About Sonic Drive-In

‘America’s Drive-In’ is old-fashioned, without the gimmicks
Wikimedia Commons/ Johnny Mr. Ninja

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Sonic Drive-In

Wikimedia Commons/ Belinda Miller

Sonic Drive-In has done a great job of making sure that everybody in America knows its name. Through its memorable advertisements and unique concept, it’s become one of the country’s most popular chains, with more than 3,500 locations in 43 states. But we bet that there are a lot of things you didn’t know about Sonic. 

Sonic’s Founder Got His Start with a Steakhouse

Wikimedia Commons/ Mike Russell

In 1953, founder Troy Smith purchased a walk-up root beer stand called the Top Hat that had an adjacent log house in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He kept the root beer stand as-is and converted the log cabin in into a steakhouse, thinking that it would bring in more profits than root beer. But selling root beer, burgers, and hot dogs from the root beer stand ended up earning him a lot more money, so he shut the steakhouse down.  

Their Use of an Intercom Ordering System Was a Stroke of Luck

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Customers could originally park anywhere they wanted and walk up to the root beer stand to place their orders, but after visiting a Louisiana drive-in where customers ordered via intercom, Smith had the “light bulb moment.” He hired some jukebox repairmen (so ’50s!) to install intercom wiring in the parking lot, and sales immediately tripled. The novel concept soon caught the eye of an entrepreneur named Charles Pappe, who negotiated the first franchise location in 1956.  

Their First Slogan was ‘Service with the Speed of Sound’

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Other slogans over the years have included “Faster and Better Than Ever” (1988 to 1990), "No Place Hops Like Sonic" (1990 to 1994), and “Drive-In For A Change” (1995 to 1997). 

Frankie Avalon Helped Make It a Household Name

Copyright 1976 CBS Television

Advertising has always been a big deal for Sonic, and but perhaps their most successful ad campaign began in 1987, when they hired former teen idol Frankie Avalon to be their spokesman. Spurred by his appearances in national commercials until 1993, the chain saw a boost in sales that resulted in rapid expansion. 

The Company Went Humane in 2010

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In 2010, Sonic made a few changes in an effort to boost flagging sales. They announced that all eggs would be cage-free, all pork would be gestation-crate-free, and all chickens would be slaughtered using humane methods. 

Their Ice Cream Wasn’t ‘Real’ Until 2010

Wikimedia Commons/ Johnny Mr. Ninja

While Sonic has always sold shakes, the ice cream used in them had been a “non-ice cream, lower-fat dairy product” for years, and they had to call it “soft serve” because it had so little milk that didn’t meet the FDA’s definition of ice cream. They adjusted the formula in 2010, and while they were at it they also stretched their “extra long” hot dogs out to a full 12 inches. 

They Operate ‘Sonic Beach’ in Florida

Facebook/ Sonic Beach

Sonic deviated from their drive-in concept for the first time in 2011, when they opened Sonic Beach in Homestead, Florida. Located beachside, the restaurant features outdoor seating, flat-screen TVs, beer and wine, and new menu items including popcorn shrimp, pulled pork, and Philly cheesesteaks. There are currently four Sonic Beach locations throughout Florida. 

The ‘Two Guys’ in Commercials are Well-Known Improv Actors

Sonic

The “two guys” featured in current Sonic commercials (best known for bantering in their car while trying to figure out what to order) are in reality two of the most in-demand actors in the improv world. T.J. Jagodowski is a former Second City member and has appeared in films including Stranger Than Fiction and Get Hard, and Peter Grosz is a former Colbert Report writer who has been a regular cast member on HBO’s Veep and is currently on the writing staff for Late Night with Seth Meyers

Their Unhealthiest Menu Item Is the Bacon Double Cheeseburger

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The bacon double cheeseburger with mayo contains 87 grams of fat, 1,240 calories, 35 grams of saturated fat, 265 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,690 milligrams of sodium. Sonic’s unhealthiest beverage (and one of the unhealthiest fast food items, period) is the large Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast, which contains 2,020 calories and 95 grams of fat.