"We're excited about it," enthused Vivian Burdette, chairperson of the Tonto Apache Tribal Council. "This has been in the works for such a long time. We kept saying, 'It's coming, it's coming,' and now all of a sudden, it's here."
Yes, it's true. Monday evening, the Sonic Drive-In that's long been planned for the Tonto Apache Reservation came to the end of a year's worth of delays and the national franchise's roller-skating carhops are now delivering burgers, fries, shakes and malts directly to customers' automobile windows.
According to Burdette, the tribe's involvement in Sonic is minimal; while it profits from the franchise's presence on the reservation, and while Sonic employs a number of young tribal members, the business was built and is owned and managed by Sonic Corporation a company that has so mastered the art of fast food that its total system-wide restaurant sales exceeded $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2001.
On top of that, Forbes magazine, in its October 2001 issue, named Sonic as the only quick-service restaurant in the nation to qualify for its "200 Best Small Companies in America" list for the eighth consecutive year.
The prototype of the first Sonic Drive-In a root beer stand called "Top Hat" opened 49 years ago in Shawnee, Okla. Since then, the company has evolved into the nation's largest chain of drive-in fast-food restaurants with 2,300 eateries in 30 states including more than 70 in Arizona. Today, the company estimates that more than three-quarters of a million people eat at Sonic Drive-Ins every day.
Much like its carhops and '50s-style drive-in look. Sonic's menu harkens back to yesteryear with made-to-order favorites such as hamburgers, french fries, malts and shakes, extra-long cheese coneys, tater tots, and such specialty fountain drinks as cherry limeades, slushes and floats.
As it turns out, Sonic appeals to members of the Tonto Apaches as much for its menu and proximity to tribal offices as its profit-generating potential.
"It's wonderful that it's so close for us," Burdette said. "If we want to run over there and get something real quick, it's right there. It's so convenient. We're all very happy about that."
Sonic Drive-In is located at milepost 251, Highway 87, across from the Mazatzal Casino and just south of the Tonto Apache Market. Although hours of operation have not yet been permanently set, it is now open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call 468-1863.