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Sonic Drive-In: A History

Changing Times

After 1967 Troy Smith continued to build and help run new Sonic locations, but he needed some assistance. Two of the first men recruited to run Sonic drive-ins, Matt Kinslow and Marvin Jirous, were asked to help run Sonic Supply. Sonic Supply was responsible for the distribution of resources to every Sonic drive-in, from paper bags to hamburger buns. Together, they helped start an expansion of Sonic drive-ins in Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas. By 1972 there were 165 Sonic drive-ins in seven different states. The efficient-minded Troy Smith decided to create a corporation that would tie management of all of the drive-ins together at a higher level. This allowed Sonic to create a system of standards for each restaurant to follow so that they would all work the same way, even though most Sonic franchises were locally owned.

In 1973 the price of gasoline rose extremely high, and people were having trouble saving money. Drive-ins began to suffer because people did not want to drive their cars to get food due to the high cost. In the 1980s the country was in a recession, and Sonic was losing people who wanted to invest in the company.

However, Troy Smith and Marvin Jirous, now chairman of the board and president of Sonic Industries, kept their cool. In the face of drive-in closings and the company losing money, Marvin resigned as president to control his own Sonic franchises and Smith stepped back into the president’s chair, saying that the company would work on a “back to basics” philosophy. By keeping the menu simple and encouraging drive-in workers and managers to establish relationships with each other and with their local communities, Sonic kept its reputation as an all-American company, and made it out of the recession in one piece and ready to grow.

Sonic Drive-In in Apache Junction, Arizona, c. 1986 (courtesy of The Apache Junction/Gold Canyon Independent archives). 4

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