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Sonic founder Troy Smith dies at 87

BY DON MECOY Modified: October 28, 2009 at 7:07 am •  Published: October 28, 2009
Troy Smith, founder of a drive-in restaurant that grew from humble beginnings in Shawnee to an industry leader as Sonic Corp., died Monday. He was 87.

Sonic Chief Executive Officer Clifford Hudson said Smith "will be missed in a big way.”

"Troy was a great entrepreneur, but he was also just a wonderful guy,” Hudson said. "He created enormous opportunity for thousands and thousands of people.”

In 1953, Smith purchased a root beer stand on the outskirts of Shawnee that he dubbed Top Hat Drive-In. Over the next several years, Smith perfected a system of controlled parking, carhops and an innovative intercom system for taking orders. By the end of the decade, Smith renamed the franchise Sonic, playing off the business’ motto of "Service at the speed of sound.”

During the 1950s, Smith also refined a method that eventually led to the company’s widespread success: a partnership with franchisees that shared responsibility and profits.

Earlier this month, Sonic celebrated the 50th anniversary of the company’s name change, which included the publishing of a book titled "Sonic: The History of America’s Drive-In.” Historian Bob Blackburn, who worked with Smith on the book, said Smith was an entrepreneur at heart.

"He was very humble, giving credit to his associates who went into other states and made this Oklahoma company a national company,” Blackburn said. "He was as excited seeing one of his associates succeed as he was to see his own stores succeed.”

Sonic, a $600 million publicly traded company based in Oklahoma City, operates nearly 3,600 drive-ins and serves more than a million customers every day.

Smith’s success was based on hard work and teamwork, Blackburn said.

"He believed in shared responsibility and shared profit,” he said. Sign/view the guest book has disabled the comments for this article.


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