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The History of Sonic

Troy Smith and his wife Dollie moved to Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1948 and opened the Cottage Café along with several other restaurants. Smith realized that a small drive-in root beer stand called Top Hat was the most profitable among them. In the early 1950s, he shifted his focus to the drive-in and began to expand the offerings. Smith also introduced many drive-in innovations. After visiting a hamburger stand that used an intercom ordering system in Longview, Texas, Smith contacted his local radio and television stations along with local jukebox installers and got an intercom system set up at Top Hat. This allowed customers to order from their cars. He also hired roller-skating carhops to carry food and trash to and from people's cars and eventually installed canopies, diagonal parking spaces, and speakers that played music, too. By 1955, Top Hat was offering 17 different menu items and Smith’s innovations were proving very popular with the public. Charlie Pappe, another Oklahoma entrepreneur, came across Top Hat in 1956. The two men decided to join forces to expand the business, however, they were only able to open three more locations because the name was under copyright. The locations were already using the slogan, “Service at the Speed of Sound,” so changing the restaurant name to Sonic was a natural fit. Smith and Pappe arranged it so that different locations could have input on the pricing and menu options and Sonic grew in popularity throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, the chain underwent a rebranding and began advertising on television. As nostalgia for the 1950s rose when films like Grease debuted in the late 1970s, Sonic was able to capitalize on the trend. Another redesign occurred in the 1990s when the Sonic logo was given its modern yellow, blue, and red colors. Menu improvements and updated employee uniforms were also introduced during this time. Beginning in 2004, Sonic began running their famous “Two Guys” television ads featuring comedians T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz. Today, Sonic features an extensive food and drink menu and most locations still include drive-in style ordering complete with plenty of canopied parking.

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