September 22, 2019 | 84° F

Students 'drive-in' to Sonic for '50s experience


Relief is here for those who traveled long and far to visit the Sonic in Southern New Jersey - the popular fast food chain opened a new franchise Dec. 7 at Route 27 in Franklin Park.

Located between the University and Princeton University, the restaurant looks to create a blast from the past eating experience.

The origins of Sonic date back to the era they try to replicate, and today there are more than 3,500 restaurants in at least 41 U.S. states, according to the Sonic Web site.

'Sonic tries to replicate an old-fashioned '50s style drive-in type experience,' said Sonic General Manager Ryan Fowler. 'We have the carhops on the roller skates.'

Employees deliver trays of food on roller skates, and customers can have their meals delivered to them in their cars.

'[Roller skates] make it a whole lot easier to get to all the stalls and all the cars when it's really busy,' said employee Gavel Taylor. 'It's hard to walk to everyone. You can't walk - you have to run when it's busy.'

Sonic has brought new jobs to the area for high school and college students as well as adults.

'All the high school students are from the area,' Fowler said. 'All the adults, as well, are from the general vicinity.'

Because of Sonic's unique design, the service is under a lot more pressure with 27 different points of service instead of the typical fast food two to three.

There are 24 stalls for cars to pull into with menu boards that link customers to the kitchen via headset, along with two menu boards on the patio and a drive-through system.

'There's the famous Sonic red button and you hit that and someone inside will take your order,' Fowler said. 'Once your order is ready we will bring it out to you. You would eat in your car or [take it to go].'

Tyler James Gluag of Woodbridge said he enjoys coming to Sonic.

'[I drove] about 45 minutes,' he said. 'I come here all the time. Push a button, someone comes on and they bring [the food] out quickly.'

Sonic timing standards are held at two and a half minutes at the drive-through and three minutes for the patio and stall areas, Fowler said.

'At this point, our restaurant is exceeding those expectations so we're certainly thrilled by that, and basically, one of our targets getting into this was to try to match the criteria that Sonic stipulates,' Fowler said. 'We also want to serve a quality product. The balance between quality and speed of service.'

Fowler said business has been going well so far.

'We didn't break any records 'hellip; but it was a solid wintertime opening, and we are hoping the novelty will keep us going through winter and hopefully business will pick back up again in summer [when] people will be able to hang out [outside],' he said.

Regardless of the season or the weather, Sonic remains open.

'We clean down the stalls [and patio of snow], and while we are cleaning we just have the drive-through,' Taylor said.

Aaron Day, a School of Engineering junior, said Sonic is similar to a Dairy Queen in the type of food you can order.

'It will be cool to have it close. We have driven an hour to see the one in South Jersey,' he said. 'It's a one-time thing, but having it close will be a good thing. It's the only place to get a corn dog.'

Ched 'R' Peppers, one of the menu items, is a popular item among customers, Fowler said.

Because of its median location, Fowler said Sonic is trying to attract students from both the University and Princeton.

'We are happy with the location, and right now we are trying to build relationships with students from both campuses,' Fowler said. 'We are working on putting together some promotional type events where we can hopefully entice the people to come down and visit us.'

One of the employees was dressed in an Afro wig and black sparkly disco dress representing a '70s theme.

'We are going to have something every two weeks,' Taylor said. 'We're going to have themes - right now its '70s. If you come as that theme you will get discounts on stuff.'

Fowler said Sonic management is discussing possible discounts or other promotions for students when they present valid student identification.

'Once we figure out a game plan, we will approach the representatives from both campuses and see what we will be able to do,' Fowler said.

School of Arts and Sciences junior Jeong Lee said he is hesitant to stop by the new location because it is still a fast food restaurant.

'Fast food is easy, but I don't eat it because 'hellip; it's not wise,' he said. 'I just stay away from it.'

The Sonic is located at 3331 Route 27 and Vliet Rd. in Franklin Park, N.J.


Neil Kypers

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