Troy Smith (businessman)

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Troy Nuel Smith, Sr. (May 26, 1922 – October 26, 2009)[1] was an American entrepreneur who founded Sonic Drive-In, a fast-food restaurant chain based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, that recreates the drive-in diner feel of the 1950s, complete with carhops who usually wear roller skates. By the time of Smith's death in 2009, the chain had 3,600 restaurants in 42 U.S. states.

Smith was born on May 26, 1922 in Seminole, Oklahoma, part of the oil patches in the east central portion of the state. He attended Seminole High School, married Dollie Twiggs in 1940, and in 1943 enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.[2] After completing his military service, he worked as a milk truck driver. Choosing to be his own boss, Smith opened a number of restaurants, ranging from a diner to a steak house, in Shawnee, Oklahoma.[3]

Of all his operations, his most successful was a root beer stand called Top Hat that he opened in 1953, which brought regular profits of 20% annually. While driving near the TexasLouisiana border, he pulled into a fast food restaurant that used a series of intercoms at each parking spot to allow customers to place orders directly from their cars. Smith obtained the design of the communication system and put it in place at Top Hat, allowing customers to place orders and have them delivered to their car within three minutes by carhops on roller skates.[3]

In Smith's version of the drive-in, parking was angled to afford greater privacy, and the speakers would play popular music for patrons while dining. As the Top Hat name had already been trademarked, he renamed the restaurants as Sonic in 1959, with the slogan "Service with the Speed of Sound". In an effort to expand the number of locations and bring in new talent, Sonic pursued a franchise-based model which had a new location opening daily, on average, in the late 1970s, though an economic turndown saw the closure of 300 of the chain's 1,300 restaurants in the early 1980s.[3]

He stepped down from operating the firm in 1983 but retained a seat on the company's board. By the time of his death, the chain operated in 42 states at some 3,600 locations.[3]

In January 2007 Smith and his wife donated Sonic stock valued at $3 million to the University of Central Oklahoma, the largest unrestricted cash gift in UCO's history.[2]


Smith died at age 87 on October 26, 2009, in Oklahoma City after two decades of Alzheimer's Disease. He was survived by his wife Dollie, as well as by a daughter, a son, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.[3]


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  2. ^ a b Kathy Toppins, "Edmond funeral service planned for Sonic founder", The Edmond Sun, October 28, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hernandez, Javier C. "Troy Smith, Founder of Sonic, Dies at 87", The New York Times, November 2, 2009. Accessed November 3, 2009.