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14 Things You Didn't Know About Sonic Drive-In

Back in the day, drive-in restaurants were a dime a dozen. But they’ve mostly gone the way of the drive-in movie theater, with one notable exception: Sonic Drive-In. As the biggest chain of drive-in restaurants still in existence, Sonic serves 3 million customers across 45 states every day. Even if you're a loyal consumer of cherry limeades, here are a few facts you probably didn't know about "America's favorite drive-in."

1. SONIC WAS ORIGINALLY JUST A ROOT BEER STAND.

Restaurant founder Troy Smith tried his hand at running a number of restaurants, from diners and steakhouses to a root beer stand in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He outfitted the root beer stand with a car-to-kitchen intercom system after discovering a similar setup at a restaurant along the Texas-Louisiana border. It didn’t take him long to realize that the stand was consistently outperforming all of his other restaurants, turning a 20 percent profit on a regular basis. (There’s always money in the root beer stand.) So, in 1953, Smith ditched the other places and focused all of his attention on the root beer business.

2. SONIC COULD HAVE BEEN CALLED "TOP HAT" INSTEAD.

"Top Hat" was the name of the root beer stand, which Smith wanted to keep when he decided to expand. Unfortunately, his lawyers discovered that the phrase had already been trademarked and advised him to come up with something else.

3. THE NAME "SONIC" REFERS TO ITS SPEEDINESS.

Lars Plougmann, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The alternative name Smith and business partner Charles Pappe came up with was directly related to the Top Hat tagline they developed to promote the quick ordering process made possible by the intercom system. That slogan? “Service with the Speed of Sound.” The first drive-in officially dubbed Sonic opened in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1959.

4. THE FIRST FRANCHISE AGREEMENT INCLUDED AN UNUSUAL STIPULATION.

Instead of charging a flat fee, Sonic’s first formal franchise agreement gave Smith and Pappe a penny for every logo-stamped paper hamburger bag that was used.

5. SONIC AND DR PEPPER TEAM UP TO HOST AN ANNUAL CARHOP COMPETITION.

The winner receives $1000 and an all-expense-paid trip to the annual Sonic National Convention. They’re accepting submissions now, so if you’re a Sonic carhop, get on it. Here’s what you’ll be up against:

6. CHERRY LIMEADES ARE ONE OF SONIC'S BEST-SELLING PRODUCTS.

A photo posted by Sonic Drive-In (@sonicdrivein) on

In one year, Sonic sells enough of the delicious drinks to fill more than 15 Olympic sized swimming pools.

7. FRANKIE AVALON WAS ONCE THE COMPANY SPOKESMAN.

Playing to their nostalgic image, Sonic recruited former teen idol Frankie Avalon as their spokesperson in the late ‘80s and early '90s.

These days, the company has turned to Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant for celebrity endorsement—specifically, to push their new line of slushes studded with candy pieces.

8. THE COMPANY SAYS IT OFFERS 168,894 DRINK COMBINATIONS.

A photo posted by Sonic Drive-In (@sonicdrivein) on

If Durant gets tired of adding Jolly Ranchers and Nerds to his drinks, he has plenty of other options available. In fact, even though Sonic advertises 168,894 combos, the Wall Street Journal found even more—688,133.

9. SOME OF THE BEST FLAVOR COMBOS ARE EMPLOYEE-SUBMITTED.

In 2011, Sonic corporate asked employees to concoct and submit drink combinations and names that weren’t officially on the menu. They received more than 600 entries, from Blue Hawaiian (Sprite with blue coconut flavoring and real pineapple) to Strawberry Shortcake (Sprite with vanilla flavoring, sweet cream, and real strawberries).

10. THE SONIC HEADQUARTERS IN OKLAHOMA CITY FEATURES A TEST KITCHEN.

The 10-person test kitchen works to invent new menu items and perfect old ones. The test kitchen staff also runs the employee cafeteria. "We want the employees to try the food and be ambassadors for the food," Chef Claes Petersson has said.

11. YOU CAN GET BEER AT SONIC BEACH.

A photo posted by 🅱ianke (@teambianke) on

If you live in Florida, you may have come across Sonic Beach. Intended to "capture the South Florida essence," Sonic Beach has a patio area, 60” LED flat screen TVs, a sand beach area—and alcohol. They're the only Sonic locations that offer beer, wine, and even Dom Perignon.

12. SOME SONIC LOCATIONS OFFER ADULT PLAYGROUNDS.

If you’re not near a Sonic Beach, don’t worry—there’s probably still some fun to be had at your local restaurant. In hopes of providing the adult equivalent of a ball pit, many Sonics offer batting cages, volleyball courts, playgrounds, and more.

13. THE TWO DEADPAN MEN IN THE SONIC COMMERCIALS ARE ACTUALLY IMPROV ACTORS AND WRITERS.

Peter Grosz wrote for The Colbert Report for three years and currently writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers, while T.J. Jagodowski is a Second City alum who has had roles in the movies Stranger Than Fiction, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Get Hard.

14. NO SONIC IN YOUR AREA YET? THERE PROBABLY WILL BE.

Bob B. Brown, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2014, the company announced plans to add 1000 restaurants in the next 10 years, including an additional 300 in California alone.

This piece was corrected to reflect that Sonic's Oklahoma City headquarters has a test kitchen and employee cafeteria, not a drive-in restaurant.

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Big Questions
What is Duck Sauce?
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A plate of Chinese takeout with egg rolls and duck sauce
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We know that our favorite Chinese takeout is not really authentically Chinese, but more of an Americanized series of menu options very loosely derived from overseas inspiration. (Chinese citizens probably wouldn’t recognize chop suey or orange-glazed chicken, and fortune cookies are of Japanese origin.) It would also be unusual for "real" Chinese meals to be accompanied by a generous amount of sauce packets.

Here in the U.S., these condiments are a staple of Chinese takeout. But one in particular—“duck sauce”—doesn’t really offer a lot of information about itself. What exactly is it that we’re pouring over our egg rolls?

Smithsonian.com conducted a sauce-related investigation and made an interesting discovery, particularly if you’re not prone to sampling Chinese takeout when traveling cross-country. On the East Coast, duck sauce is similar to sweet-and-sour sauce, only fruitier; in New England, it’s brown, chunky, and served on tables; and on the West Coast, it’s almost unheard of.

While the name can describe different sauces, associating it with duck probably stems from the fact that the popular Chinese dish Peking duck is typically served with a soybean-based sauce. When dishes began to be imported to the States, the Americanization of the food involved creating a sweeter alternative using apricots that was dubbed duck sauce. (In New England, using applesauce and molasses was more common.)

But why isn’t it easily found on the West Coast? Many sauce companies are based in New York and were in operation after Chinese food had already gained a foothold in California. Attempts to expand didn’t go well, and so Chinese food aficionados will experience slightly different tastes depending on their geography. But regardless of where they are, or whether they're using the condiment as a dipping sauce for their egg rolls or a dressing for their duck, diners can rest assured that no ducks were harmed in the making of their duck sauce.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
A Hamilton-Themed Cookbook is Coming
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Hamilton Broadway

Fans of Broadway hit Hamilton will soon be able to dine like the Founding Fathers: As Eater reports, a new Alexander Hamilton-inspired cookbook is slated for release in fall 2017.

Cover art for Laura Kumin's forthcoming cookbook
Amazon

Called The Hamilton Cookbook: Cooking, Eating, and Entertaining in Hamilton’s World, the recipe collection by author Laura Kumin “takes you into Hamilton’s home and to his table, with historical information, recipes, and tips on how you can prepare food and serve the food that our founding fathers enjoyed in their day,” according to the Amazon description. It also recounts Hamilton’s favorite dishes, how he enjoyed them, and which ingredients were used.

Recipes included are cauliflower florets two ways, fried sausages and apples, gingerbread cake, and apple pie. (Cue the "young, scrappy, and hungry" references.) The cookbook’s official release is on November 21—but until then, you can stave off your appetite for all things Hamilton-related by downloading the musical’s new app.

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