Drive down any major road in the Hudson Valley, and you’ll notice the same three or four fast-food chains pop up again and again. Sonic, the drive-in eatery marked by neon blue, yellow, and red signage, has not been one of them. Down South, you can barely leave your driveway without hitting one. But despite the ubiquity of its television ads, the closest Sonic franchise to the Valley in recent years has been in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, more than a hundred miles away.
Not anymore. In May, New York State landed its first Sonic when a location opened in the Shop-Rite plaza off Route 9W in Kingston. By year’s end, the franchisee of the store, Westchester-based Daser Restaurant Group, hopes to break ground on a second location in Wappingers Falls. “It’s been very well-received,” says Doug Slater, a Daser partner. “We’ve been getting a lot of people who always wanted to try Sonic, and a lot of people who always lived near one.”
In the overcrowded fast-food universe, Sonic stands out for its retro, 1950s feel. There is no indoor eating space at the Kingston location, and the outdoor pavilion contains only a handful of tables. In a nod to the burger joint of yore, customers pull their cars into a parking spot, place their orders through an intercom, and wait for a carhop to arrive on roller skates, meal in hand. (There is a drive-thru window for those willing to drive an extra 50 feet for their grub rather than have it delivered carside.) The menu features the usual staples — burgers, chicken sandwiches, onion rings, fries — but is perhaps most beloved for its beverage selection. Billing itself as the “Ultimate Drink Stop,” the restaurant offers dozens of malts, cream pie shakes, floats, and slushes. (Once you arrive home, you may want to leave the comfort of your car to take a stroll around the neighborhood — a burger, side of onion rings, and shake weighs in at well over 1,000 calories.)
Until 2006, the Oklahoma-based chain had steered clear of cold-weather territory, apprehensive about the ability of a restaurant so dependent on car-bound customers to handle the snow-heavy months on the calendar. The owners of the Kingston location, however, plan on staying open 52 weeks a year. “Nothing really changes in the winter,” Slater says. “People in Kingston still go to work every day, they still need to eat every day.” One thing that will change come winter is the carhops’ mode of transportation. Instead of a dinner carried on roller skates, customers may have to settle for a meal delivered on foot (or snowshoe).