Troy Smith Sr., who founded the Sonic Corp. nationwide chain of drive-in restaurants in 1959, passed away in Oklahoma City, Okla., last week.
Born in 1922, Smith served in the U.S. military during World War II. Between 1948 and 1953, he experimented with several restaurant concepts, while running a bread route in Shawnee, Okla.
In 1955, he became co-owner in a root beer stand, called Top Hat, an idea which led to a lifelong career for Smith. While drive-ins were already a staple of the American fast-food scene in the 1950s, Smith decided to reinvent them by pioneering the use of angled and covered parking, along with an intercom speaker system that allowed customers to place orders from their cars; and wiring each restaurant with speakers to pipe in radio hits. He eventually developed the slogan — “Service with the Speed of Sound” — and trademarked the Sonic name in 1959.
Using the franchise model, Smith’s concept spread throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. Today, there are more than 3000 Sonic Drive-Ins located in 42 states.
Smith retired from the day-to-day operations in 1983, but kept a seat on the board and stayed involved in Sonic for most of his life. He is survived by his wife Dollie; his daughter, Leslie Baugh; his son, Troy “Butch” Smith Jr.; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.