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.

10 Delicious Hot Chocolate Mix-Ins

Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Lilechka75/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It's hot chocolate season—and while there's nothing wrong with plopping in a few marshmallows into your hot cocoa, there are many other ways to spice it up. Whether you're bored or just looking to try something new, these 10 ingredients will take your hot chocolate to the next level.

1. Peanut Butter

A jar of peanut butter in a white bowl with peanuts on a blue table.
Kevin Brine/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you're a fan of the peanut butter and chocolate combination, this recipe from One Ordinary Day is for you. Just add a few dollops of regular, creamy peanut butter right into your saucepan along with the chocolate and enjoy.

2. Nutella

For a hazelnut flavor, mix some nutella into the saucepan. This one goes best with a whipped cream garnish.

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup in a glass bottle on a wooden table.
showcake/iStock via Getty Images Plus

For a New England twist on cocoa, add a couple teaspoons of maple syrup. If you need an extra kick, a couple pinches of nutmeg will do.

4. Cinnamon

A mere teaspoon of cinnamon in a saucepan of hot chocolate is all it takes to create a delicious mix of cinnamon hot chocolate.

5. Oreos

sandwich cookies on a blue background
stacey_newman/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You’ll need a food processor or blender to chop up around four oreos until they're the texture of sugar. Add it to the hot chocolate mix, then top with whipped cream and more crushed Oreos.

6. Peppermint

For a batch of peppermint hot chocolate, all it takes is three drops of peppermint oil and a pinch of salt.

7. Ginger

fresh ginger on a black background
martinrlee/iStock via Getty Images Plus

To make hot cocoa taste like gingerbread, add one piece of ginger, 10 cloves, and two cinnamon sticks while cooking.

8. Chili Powder

If you really want to spice up the beverage, whip up a batch of Mexican hot chocolate. This includes a little bit of ground cinnamon and a pinch of chili powder.

9. Cherry

Cherries in a jar.
Freila/iStock via Getty Images Plus

For a full batch of hot chocolate to taste like cherry, it takes a few tablespoons of maraschino cherry juice.

10. Booze

There are many types of alcohol that go well in hot chocolate. Some options include brandy, Kahlua, peppermint schnapps, raspberry liqueur, tequila, amaretto, Bailey’s Irish Creme, and even red wine.

101 Years Later: Remembering Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s strangest disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city's North End and deposited so much gooey residue that locals claimed they could still smell the molasses on warm days decades later.

While most of us probably think of molasses as a tasty ingredient in treats like gingerbread, the sticky stuff has quite a few other uses. With a little know-how, one can turn molasses into rum or industrial alcohol fairly easily, and the Purity Distilling Company had built the gigantic tank in Boston’s North End in 1915 to supply its booze-making operations.

The steel tank was enormous: 50 feet tall, 90 feet across, and capable of holding 2.5 million gallons of molasses. (Although Prohibition kicked in with Nebraska’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment the very next day after the 1919 disaster, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, Purity Distilling’s parent company, still had a license to distill alcohol for industrial applications.)


By Unknown - Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Boston's North End. Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The massive tank was nearly full on January 15, thanks to a recent infusion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses from Puerto Rico. Just after noon, something went horribly wrong. Witnesses later recalled hearing a noise like gunfire as the tank’s rivets popped and the steel sides ripped open. Suddenly, 26 million pounds of molasses were tearing down Commercial Street in a 15-foot wave.

A shockingly destructive force

A giant wave of a sticky foodstuff sounds like something from a cartoon, but the surging molasses was a shockingly destructive force. The wave moved at upwards of 35 mph, and the power was sufficient to rip buildings off of their foundations. The molasses snapped the support girders from an elevated train track and smashed multiple houses. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities’s website claimed the property damage alone totaled around $100 million in today’s dollars.

The human cost of the disaster was even more grim. The wave of molasses moved so quickly and so forcefully that anyone who was unlucky enough to be in its way didn’t stand much of a chance. They were either knocked over and crushed or drowned in the goo. The flood claimed 21 lives, and another 150 people suffered injuries. Any flood would have been disastrous, but the viscous nature of molasses made rescue attempts even trickier. Medics and police officers arrived on the scene quickly but had to slog through waist-deep goo to reach victims.


Boston Post, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even after the victims had been pulled from the muck, cleanup crews quickly learned that getting rid of 2 million gallons of molasses is no small task. In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote about one of the chief obstacles to the cleanup: firefighters couldn’t just use their hoses to blast the molasses off of buildings and streets with fresh water. Eventually they realized that saltwater would cut the hardened molasses and enable them to hose it down the streets into gutters. Thanks to all the foot traffic of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and rubberneckers, the sticky mess quickly moved around the city via people's shoes. In all, the cleanup effort required over 80,000 man-hours.

The Blame Game

How did this tragedy happen in the first place? The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was quick to blame everyone’s favorite early 20th-century scapegoats: anarchists. The company claimed that since its alcohol was an ingredient in government munitions, anarchists must have sabotaged the tank by detonating a bomb. Another theory explained that the molasses had fermented inside the tank, which led to an explosion.

Investigators soon found the real culprit, though: shoddy construction work. The company had been in such a hurry to get the tank built back in 1915 that it didn’t cut corners so much as it ignored the corners completely. Modern studies have found that the tank walls were both too thin and made of a steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

The man who oversaw the construction wasn’t an engineer or an architect; in fact, he couldn’t even read a blueprint. The tank needed to be an engineering marvel to hold all that weight, but the company never even consulted an engineer on the project. Basically, it threw up a gigantic tank as quickly and as cheaply as possible, skimped on inspections and safety tests, and hoped for the best.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In light of these details, it’s amazing that the tank held together for four years. Nearby residents reported that the tank had leaked since its construction. Rather than fix the problem, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had painted the tank brown so the leaks would be less noticeable.

The largely working-class North End residents who had lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster predictably turned their rage toward the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. USIA soon found itself named as the defendant in 125 lawsuits, which led to a legal battle that nearly matched the flood’s scale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court named Colonel Hugh Ogden as the auditor who would hear the evidence and report back on the cause of the disaster. It took Ogden nearly six years to hear testimony from 3000 witnesses. When he finally penned his report, he concluded that there was no evidence to support the company’s theory of anarchist saboteurs. Instead, Ogden found that the “factor of safety” in the tank’s construction and inspection had been woefully low. USIA was liable for the damage and paid around $7000 to the family of each victim.

The Great Molasses Flood still seems like a tragedy that could have been averted, but the disaster really drew attention to the potential repercussions of shaky construction. The case helped prompt Massachusetts and many other states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects inspect and approve plans for major construction projects.

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