“The first Sonic location”
Following World War II, Troy N. Smith Sr., Sonic's founder, returned to his hometown of Seminole, Oklahoma, where he became employed as a milkman. He decided to work delivering bread because bread was not as heavy as milk. Soon afterwards, Smith purchased the Cottage Cafe, a little diner in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Before long he sold it and opened a fast food restaurant, Troy's Pan Full of Chicken, on the edge of town. In 1953, Smith went in with a business partner to purchase a five-acre parcel of land that had a log house and a walk-up root beer stand, already named the Top Hat. The two men continued with the operation of the root beer stand and converted the log house into a steak restaurant. After realizing that the stand was averaging $700 a week in the sale of root beer, hamburgers and hot dogs, Smith decided to focus on the more-profitable root beer stand. He also bought out his business partner. Originally, Top Hat customers would park their automobiles anywhere on the gravel parking lot and walk up to place their orders. However, on a trip to Louisiana, Smith saw a drive-in that used speakers for ordering. He suspected that he could increase his sales by controlling the parking and having the customers order from speakers at their cars, with carhops delivering the food to the cars. Smith borrowed several automobiles from a friend who owned a used-car lot to establish a layout for controlled parking. He also had some so-called "jukebox boys" come in and wire an intercom system in the parking lot. Sales immediately tripled. Charles Woodrow Pappe, an entrepreneur, chanced upon the Shawnee drive-in and was very impressed. He and Smith negotiated the first franchise location in Woodward, Oklahoma, in 1956, based on nothing more than a handshake. By 1958, two more drive-ins were built, in Enid and Stillwater. Sonic Drive-In neon sign at the Oklahoma History Center. Upon learning that the Top Hat name was already trademarked, Smith and Pappe changed the name to Sonic in 1959. The new name worked with their existing slogan, "Service with the Speed of Sound". After the name change, the first Sonic sign was installed at the Stillwater Top-Hat Drive-In; the original sign still can be seen there. Although Smith and Pappe were being asked to help open new franchise locations, there was no real royalty plan in place. The pair decided to have their paper company charge an extra penny for each Sonic-label hamburger bag it sold. The proceeds would then be split between Smith and Pappe. The first franchise contracts under this plan were drawn up, but there was still no joint marketing plan, standardized menu, or detailed operating requirements
Growing up in a small town in the South, Sonic was the big "hangout" spot for the younger crowd pretty much every night of the week, but especially on Friday nights after home football games. We stopped here in May 2018, having no idea that this was the first official Sonic drive-in. There's a couple original signs and a statue of the creator for a quick photo-op. It was a neat little surprise and the service was great.
The actual first Sonic Drive-In is in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It has been remodeled and is new looking, but has a small old sign (the one pictured, at night)
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- Sat: 7:00 am - 12:00 am
- Mon - Fri: 6:00 am - 12:00 am
- Sun: 8:00 am - 12:00 am
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