New President of SONIC Drive-In Opens Up: a Q&A with Claudia San Pedro

Iconic drive-in franchise president explains what makes SONIC a unique, forward-thinking investment opportunity

Claudia San Pedro was promoted to president of SONIC® in February 2018, and after more than 12 years in high-profile positions with the iconic drive-in franchise, San Pedro is uniquely qualified to help lead the growing brand into the future.

In her new role, San Pedro will be primarily responsible for franchisee relationships, managing the supply chain, leading franchise development efforts and business planning. San Pedro’s ascension to president comes as SONIC is emerging as the rare brand that can leverage a 65-year history as a nostalgic, American drive-in franchise into being one of the most forward-thinking franchise systems in the industry.

In the interview below, San Pedro opens up in a wide-ranging conversation about what makes SONIC unique, how SONIC values its franchisees and why SONIC is a brand with a bright future.

What makes SONIC unique in the competitive QSR market?

San Pedro: The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive, and it’s so important to be able to differentiate yourself. One of the reasons I love the SONIC brand is that we’re differentiated on multiple levels. Physically, we’re a drive-in concept — which is more relevant than ever, given technology and how consumers want to access their food. With our concept, the customer controls the process. They decide when they want to order and how they want their food and drinks. Our customers can order anything on our menu any way they want it. Customization is built into our brand’s DNA. We have one of the most distinctive menus in the industry featuring unique sides like hand breaded onion rings, mozzarella sticks and tater tots, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and six-inch premium hot dogs in addition to our real fruit drinks and slushes. Finally, we are differentiated in terms of our service model, which is our personalized carhop. In this day and age, having that personalized carhop experience is a nice way to build relationships with our customers

Why is SONIC so popular with consumers?

San Pedro: We’re not just serving food; we’re creating memories. We can make a bad day go well with good food and drinks. That’s important to us. It’s not food as a survival piece — SONIC is nourishment for the soul. When you come to SONIC, it’s a great way to spend time with your friends and family.

SONIC Drive-In FranchiseSONIC is well-known for its inclusive culture between its franchisees and the executive team. Why is this relationship vital to the success of the SONIC brand?

San Pedro: One of our core values is relationships as a way of life. That is important to us because the franchisor/franchisee partnership is critical to the success of the brand. One of the ways that we really work to live our values is in making sure our franchisees are involved from day one in providing input into any major aspect of our business. Whether it’s a marketing initiative, a development initiative, a technology initiative, or product innovation, our Franchisee Advisory Council is with us from the beginning. They work with us to ideate and test the initiative until we ultimately launch system-wide implementation. We understand that if it weren’t for our franchisees we wouldn’t be successful, so garnering their input and having good discussion and debate about how to move the brand forward is the best way we can all ensure success for the future.

While other brands struggle to recruit younger and more diverse buyers, SONIC is one of the industry’s leading brands in this regard. Why?

San Pedro: Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. Many small businesses begin with one idea that is generated by an independent entrepreneur. What’s wonderful about the franchise business model is that it facilitates that dream. If you look at where we’re able to shine, it’s not only providing opportunities for entrepreneurs whose families may have been here for hundreds of years, and it’s about providing opportunities for new immigrants or second-generation immigrants who want to grow their business. Franchising is an excellent way to start small, and over time, build a large business.

What is special about the culture of SONIC?

San Pedro: The important part of our culture is that you take yourself seriously enough to run a good business, focusing on growing sales and profits. At the same time, you spend a lot of time with the people you work with, and you need to have a good time. We’re only on this earth for a short amount of time, so we really strive to take ourselves seriously when we need to, and we also want to have fun and meet great people along the way.

What is exciting about the future of SONIC?

San Pedro: If you look at the heritage of the brand, we’re more than 60 years old. Many people think of us as a nostalgic, drive-in brand, but the reality is that we’re all about the future. If you had to build a new concept today that could leverage technology in the most relevant, meaningful way to the consumer, providing personalized food and drinks, the ability to order ahead to reduce the friction of waiting in a drive-thru line or having to get out of your car to go indoors, you would build a drive-in model. What’s perfect about it for us is that our heritage is based on doing it the way the consumer wants. So if you want an onion ring on your hamburger, that comes completely naturally to us because that is a part of our brand DNA. Consumers now more than ever want to be able to have as many choices as they can. If you think about the future and how we need to leverage technology to drive a much better customer service experience, we are uniquely suited to deliver on that proposition.

What is the future of SONIC’s franchise development?

San Pedro: We have franchisees who have been a part of our system for 20 and 30 years, and we also have franchisees who have just joined our system. They may start off with 10 drive-ins, and have goals of owning 200 drive-ins over the next 10 years. We have a wonderful balance of new franchisees coming into the system, where SONIC is their first foray into the restaurant industry, as well as franchisees who own multiple other concepts and have significant experience in the restaurant industry.

When you think about SONIC, there are very few brands that garner the brand awareness that we do and have the marketing power that we do, while also having so much green space available to be built upon.

Learn more about SONIC franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about the SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunity, request a copy of our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

SONIC Drive-In CEO Named to Nation’s Restaurant News’ Power List

Iconic SONIC franchise CEO is highlighted on prestigious annual list of Top 50 most influential people in foodservice

Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) has named SONIC® CEO Cliff Hudson to The Power List 2018, its prestigious annual list of the 50 most influential people in foodservice.

Billed as “the definitive list of industry leaders who are not only setting trends today, but also shaping them for tomorrow,” the leading restaurant industry publication made a fine choice by selecting our CEO.

NRN describes Hudson as  “The Menu Innovator,” and the publication praised his exemplary track record leading the iconic SONIC brand as chief executive officer since 1995.

“J. Clifford Hudson has led Oklahoma City-based quick-service chain SONIC Drive-In as its CEO for the past 22 years,” NRN  reports. “During that time SONIC has grown to more than 3,500 units and led the way in soft-drink innovation — a customization play that Hudson cites as a factor in drawing a disproportionate number of millennial customers. SONIC also has carried out culinary innovations during Hudson’s tenure, including the introduction of hot dogs. Last year, SONIC took a bold move by testing a premium “blended burger,” made with 25 percent to 30 percent mushrooms blended with ground beef.”

The magazine correctly points out that Hudson is known for, “expanding the long-standing quick-service burger chain and bringing it into the 21st century,” and his inclusive and collaborative approach is one of the key reasons why our brand is rapidly growing across the country.

“Hudson has quietly created a leadership team that is unusually diverse for the industry, with most of his senior officials either women or ethnic minorities,” NRN reports. “SONIC is also testing order ahead.”

We encourage you to click here to read the full article on why Hudson has been recognized as one of this year’s most influential people in the foodservice industry.

SONIC is America’s Drive-In®, serving more than 3 million customers a day at more than 3,500 locations nationwide. An iconic brand with a rich heritage encompassing more than 60 years, SONIC believes in excellent customer service and developing core relationships with customers in the communities where our franchise owners operate. We are in the middle of a major nationwide expansion and joining SONIC now makes more sense than ever.

Learn more about SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunities

For in-depth details about SONIC Drive-In franchise opportunities, request a copy of our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Kamal Singh Acquires 34 SONIC Franchise Locations

Millennial entrepreneur looks forward to a bright future with America’s beloved drive-in franchise

Kamal Singh is one of the most enterprising millennial entrepreneurs in the franchise industry. At the age of 31, Kamal owns more than 25 KFC and KFC/TacoBell locations, and he recently became one of the largest multi-unit franchisees with SONIC after acquiring 34 locations in the Houston area.

With revenues well approaching $70 million annually, Kamal says he chose to make the significant investment in multi-unit ownership with SONIC because of the tremendous profit-potential. SONIC’s 60-year legacy of exceptional food and customer service, as well as our brand’s forward-thinking leadership team was equally attractive to Kamal in the decision-making process.

“SONIC has a terrific, high-quality menu and a long-legacy of connecting with customers,” says Kamal, adding that he has plans to build 20 more SONIC restaurants in the fast-growing Houston area. “I think there is more than enough room to expand by several units in the Houston area. The opportunity is there.”

Born in India, Kamal immigrated to the United States when he was 14 years old. One of his first jobs was as a McDonald’s cashier in high school. After graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in accounting, Kamal says that the turning point in his life came in 2009 when he decided to leave a well-paying accounting position to buy a local sandwich shop.

“Buying my first restaurant was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Kamal says. “At the time, the sandwich shop was completely failing – going into bankruptcy. I had to work hard to quickly transform our operations and learn how to manage a team effectively to turn things around. I’m proud to say that this effort was successful and that this inspired me to invest in the QSR segment with well-known franchise brands.”

Although a very hands-on manager, Kamal has learned to step back and trust his teams to execute and excel. Kamal says he sees operations as the heart of any business model and the key to growth.

“I don’t believe in management, but in leadership,” said Kamal says. “I want to inspire our teams to achieve greatness within themselves.”

One of his goals as a SONIC franchisee is to continue working on leadership development, working alongside our executive team, to provide opportunities for his teams to thrive professionally and fulfill their own goals at his locations.

“I look to enhance my leadership team’s abilities and experiences,” Kamal says. “We have an ear to the ground in our restaurants, and we’re always looking to learn from all levels within our units. We empower our higher-level leaders, and seek to find opportunities for our teams to thrive within the business model.”

Kamal says he also “looks to the industry for best practices to evolve and better execute the brand vision and guest experience.”

Now a family man with two young sons, Kamal is excited to continue his journey as a multi-unit franchisee with SONIC. His hopes for the future are bright with plans to expand in 2018 and beyond.

“I look forward to expanding the footprint in the Houston area going forward,” Kamal says. “SONIC is a strong brand, with enormous brand recognition and an exceptional product. I am excited to track the performance of my locations and build upon their success in the years ahead.”

Become a SONIC Franchise Owner

To learn more about becoming a SONIC Franchise Owner, request a copy of our free franchise report or visit our research pages.

About Sonic

SONIC, America’s Drive-In, is the nation’s largest drive-in restaurant chain serving approximately 3 million customers every day. Nearly 94 percent of SONIC’s more than 3,500 drive-in locations are owned and operated by local businessmen and women. For 64 years, SONIC has delighted guests with signature menu items, 1.3 million drink combinations and friendly service by iconic carhops. Since the 2009 launch of SONIC’s Limeades for Learning philanthropic campaign in partnership with DonorsChoose.org, SONIC has donated $9.5 million to public school teachers nationwide to fund essential learning materials and innovative teaching resources to inspire creativity and learning in their students. To learn more about Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ/NM: SONC), please visit sonicdrivein.com and please visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. To learn about SONIC’s Limeades for Learning initiative, please visit LimeadesforLearning.com.

Amhad Awik Finds Lifetime Career with SONIC

Executive has ongoing passion for SONIC operations

After arriving in the United States from Lebanon to attend college, SONIC® quickly became one of Ahmad Awik’s favorite dining spots.

As a student, Ahmad became a regular customer. He and his wife would go on dates to take advantage of Family Night which featured savings on burgers.

Ahmad’s love for SONIC continues to grow. In 1993, he joined SW Karma, LLC and today serves as its vice president of operations. The group owns and operates more than two dozen SONIC Drive-Ins.

“I don’t feel like I’m working,” Ahmad says. “I feel like I’ve been investing my time with my people. I don’t call it work. I call it a passion.”

Reflecting upon the day he saw a lighted “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a SONIC Drive-In located on Butler Avenue in Flagstaff, Ahmad realized that he valued his customer experience with SONIC so much that he wanted to work there.

“I just went in and shook the manager’s hand and said I’d really like to have an opportunity here, but my hours are limited,” he says. “The manager said that’s not a problem.”

Graduating with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a minor in mathematics, he had his mind set on working for SONIC. Working his way up, he became a manager and then a director overseeing several stores and their respective supervisors. Ahmad began helping SONIC’s Dennis Murphy grow the franchise system. “I started working with him when he had five locations,” Ahmad said, “When he sold it, we had 48 locations.”

“Going into a market that nobody has tapped into as an investor means you’re going to be investing in a recognizable business,” he says. “They will quickly see that nobody can do what SONIC does. Everybody tries to imitate what SONIC does, but they can’t.

“We have so many undeveloped markets but people in them already love SONIC because of our effective national marketing,” Ahmad adds. “It doesn’t matter where people live in the country; they’re exposed to a SONIC ad.

“The people running the operation are family-oriented people who care and believe,” he continues. “They wake up in the morning and ask ‘What can I do to make SONIC’s brand better than it was yesterday?’ That’s what really drives SONIC towards a better future moving forward.”

Become a SONIC Franchise Owner

To learn more about becoming a SONIC Franchise Owner, request a copy of our free franchise report or visit our research pages.

Find your life’s passion and career with SONIC

SONIC, America’s Drive-In is the nation’s largest drive-in restaurant chain serving approximately 3 million customers every day. Nearly 94 percent of SONIC’s 3,500 drive-in locations are owned and operated by local business men and women. For 64 years, SONIC has delighted guests with signature menu items, 1.3 million drink combinations and friendly service by iconic Carhops. Since the 2009 launch of SONIC’s Limeades for Learning philanthropic campaign in partnership with DonorsChoose.org, SONIC has donated $8.5 million to public school teachers nationwide to fund essential learning materials and innovative teaching resources to inspire creativity and learning in their students. To learn more about Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ/NM: SONC), please visitsonicdrivein.com and please visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. To learn about SONIC’s Limeades for Learning initiative, please visit LimeadesforLearning.com.

SONIC Franchise Review: An Interview with Nashville Area Owner David Watson

SONIC Drive-In franchisee discusses decades of success that’s taken him from carhop to multi-unit owner

Sonic's Multi-Unit Owner Franchisee David WatsonDavid Watson has built his current empire of 26 successful SONIC Drive-In franchise locations primarily in middle Tennessee. His success through the decades embodies the American dream so many of our franchisees share.

David’s journey as an entrepreneur began on skates in a SONIC parking lot in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he spent his teenage years delivering burgers and tots. He stayed on board with SONIC through college and before finishing his degree went to work full-time for America’s Drive-In®, opening new restaurants all over the country.

“This was during the big boom in the late 1970s and early 1980s when we were opening locations every week,” David says. “Then I fell in love with a girl.”

The rest, as they say, is history. David got married, went back to school and got his master’s degree in business and began a new career outside of SONIC but thought about his time at SONIC daily.

In the mid-1980s David was driving from Memphis to Atlanta and stopped in Franklin, Tennessee, where he spotted a former SONIC drive-in that had been converted into a liquor store. “I paid $150,000 for the building and the land…everything. I got three partners to join me, one being my dad, and we opened in 1987. Since then I’ve probably owned about 60 SONIC locations.”

David is a firm believer in the operational excellence of franchising and is one of the founders of The Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at his alma mater, Brigham Young University, and frequently speaks to college students at BYU, as well as local middle Tennessee colleges and universities about franchising and entrepreneurism. David recently shared his excitement for the SONIC brand and his family’s involvement in the business, which includes son-in-law Blake Haines as director of operations.

This is his story:

What do you like about the direction SONIC is heading?

I feel so fortunate that I was able to go through the era when I was just starting as a franchisee with former CEO Steve Lynn. He came up with the idea of co-oping all of our advertising efforts and purchasing pooling in the late 1980s. I was blessed to be with the company because we just skyrocketed. Success magazine at the time ranked us as the No. 1 franchise, and I believe that — I really do. From Lori Osley [Senior Director of Franchise Sales/Development Marketing] to Drew Ritger [Senior Vice President for Development] to my field marketing reps to my operations people, they are always there to help franchisees.

What differentiates SONIC from other QSR concepts?

Of course, the first and foremost is the carhop service. We are the only QSR in the industry that does that. Second is our gigantic menu with all the choices. Third is the consistency of our operations and food. A good example is that when I was a teenager I promise you that the kitchen is exactly the same as it was. It hasn’t changed as far as layout. The equipment, of course, is upgraded and top of the line, but back then we had already perfected getting the food out the door fast.

What do you think of the Two Guys national advertising campaign?

When I travel by plane and I am wearing my SONIC shirt, someone will always approach me and ask, “I hear those commercials, my mouth waters and I hear the Two Guys. When will we get a SONIC in my town?” The national ad campaign is really getting people excited about new markets.

How often do you visit your restaurants?

My son-in law goes there every day since he is head of operations. I go there to eat or if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Any time we do renovations I meet with the contractor on-site.

What do you like to order when you go to one of your restaurants?

My go-to order is a SONIC hamburger with mayo and mustard, tots with cheese and the hot fudge and peanut butter milkshake for dessert.

How does training and support from SONIC’s home office help you succeed as a business owner?

The consistency and product control is stellar. Every product we have has a flip chart.
Everything has exact specifications, and the home office support provides training online, so our employees do a lot of computer work before they actually step in the kitchen. We do a lot of training. SONIC is also really good with assistant manager training and management training classes. We also offer continual food safety classes. All these things are very beneficial.

What is your customer base like?

It really is 18 to 30 no matter how we look at it. They are the ones who spend money. The 30-year-olds, like my daughter who has an 8-, 6-, 4-, and 2-year-old, start to teach their children how to eat at SONIC, so when their kids turn 18, guess what? They are going to be SONIC fans with their own cars and their own money.

How do you give back to the local community?

You can call any school in Williamson County here in middle Tennessee and ask them if SONIC is involved and they will say, “Absolutely.” We are all over the schools in the county in which we operate. We sponsor YMCA ball teams left and right and the softball fields have SONIC signs all over them. We jump on board with any kind of school participation. Our locations are big on community involvement. We designate half a percent of our sales to use locally.

We really give our management the opportunity to become what I call Mr. or Mrs. SONIC in their community. We expect them to wear their SONIC shirts and aprons, have coupons in their pockets and go out in the community, stay involved and see where they can help. That’s how you build sales and business loyalty.

Why have you stayed with SONIC all these years?

I was really good at it. I understood it and I knew the business and that’s why, for me, it was such a draw. Plus I saw the future and knew SONIC was something that could grow, and I could have a bigger stake in it. That’s what drew me back. I’ve helped recruit probably a half dozen franchisees. It’s a great franchise; we get lots of support. If I had done “David’s Drive-In” instead of SONIC, I would have failed miserably.

Own a Sonic Franchise today

Learn more about SONIC

For in-depth details about the SONIC franchise opportunity, request franchise ownership information. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

SONIC Franchise Review: An Interview with Arkansas Owner Greg Rowden

Longtime SONIC Drive-In franchise owner Greg Rowden on living out the American dream through decades of SONIC success

Greg Rowden began his career with SONIC Drive-In as a carhop and cook when he was a 15-year-old freshman in high school. Since then, Greg Rowden has built an empire of nearly 30 successful SONIC Drive-In franchise locations in his home state of Arkansas. Greg’s success through the decades is an embodiment of the American dream that franchising with America’s Drive-In has given to so many entrepreneurs since our founding over 60 years ago.

After opening his first SONIC Drive-In in his hometown of Searcy, Arkansas, in 1990, Greg continued to expand. Greg entered into a formal business partnership in 2001 with partners Ricky Davis and David Hall, both seasoned SONIC veterans with close to 80 years of experience between them, as DHR SONIC Group.

“SONIC is one of those great American success stories. You really do get to work your way up. I was actually working at SONIC while I was going to college. I ended up staying in SONIC and today, along with my two partners, I own 28 stores across the state of Arkansas,” says Greg.

Greg recently shared his excitement for the SONIC brand which is still strong after 35 years and his plans to expand to 50 locations by 2026. He discussed his long-term success with SONIC as well as the bright future of the beloved American drive-in as we innovate, embrace technology and stay ahead of customer trends, all while staying true to our iconic brand’s roots and offering what no other QSR can offer.

Sonic Franchise Review

This is his story.

What do you think about the direction SONIC is headed in?

I love the fact that we are going into a new modern era using new technologies and we are extremely proactive in being at the cutting edge of those new technologies. The unique thing about SONIC is we always pay tribute to our past and stay true to our roots. That’s one of the things I love most about SONIC. We’re not eliminating carhops. We’re not suddenly doing anything but sit down restaurants or drive-thrus and no stalls. We try to stay as true to our roots as possible, all while being adaptable. I love the direction SONIC is going in because we push the envelope as far as technology, but we are staying true to our roots.

Tell us how the SONIC culture is unique.

Part of growing up in the SONIC system is knowing that everyone is available to you. From what I hear after speaking with other business owners is that is unique to us at SONIC. The thing I love about SONIC is literally we can call or email anybody at any time and we get an immediate response. I don’t care if it’s an emergency question or if it’s just “hey, I’m kind of wondering about this.” To me it speaks volumes about our culture and family-oriented nature. I really feel like I am part of that national SONIC family. I’ve been the president of the local advertising co-op and many initiatives through the years that enhance that family-type relationship so unique to SONIC. I’ve literally been able to email or call our CEO Cliff Hudson if I want to.

What personal attributes make a successful SONIC franchisee?

I think a potential franchisee has to have a sincere love of people and a desire to be a part of a family culture. What we find is that this is not the path for someone who wants to jump into any business that will make money. But if they love people and they really want to come and embrace our culture it’s really a wonderful home.

What do you think about the Two Guys campaign?

I’m a sucker for humor. I love to laugh, so I love their brand of humor and I think it’s unique to SONIC. I love the way they approach things. I fell in love with them 20-something years ago before they even got on TV because I was part of the franchise advisory council who got to preview some of the ads. One thing I do know about those two guys is they drive interest. Whether you love them or hate them, you tend to watch them and identify with them.

Sonic Franchise ReviewHow do the strong dayparts at SONIC help build your business and customer base?

Our customers have become so loyal over time. And I think that goes back to the uniqueness of our menu and our concept. We have those customers who come every morning to get a breakfast burrito and we have the 99-cent drink stop where they can get a large Vanilla Diet Coke. We have a lot of business people who come in and have a cheeseburger on their lunch break and read their newspaper in their car. We have tons of parents who are picking up their kids from school who stop in to try our drinks. Then we have our dinner rush.

What’s unique about our menu is the customization. No matter who you have in the car and what their desires are, we’ve got something for them. You may have a mom who has been busy all day and they really want a Breakfast Toaster at 7 o’clock at night while someone else gets a Chili Cheese Coney and somebody else gets a cheeseburger. Our late evenings have become dominated with unique ice cream items. It’s also unique how our customers have learned to customize all of our food and drinks.

How does SONIC’s training help you succeed as a franchisee?

I feel like SONIC has the best training program there is. My business partners and I personally believe it’s so valuable that we send every manager and assistant manager to SONIC training schools all over the country because we know that investment will come back to us and when they come back they will be better for it.

Tell us about the dynamic formula for success behind your business partnership.

I’m sort of the spokesperson and extrovert. I do whatever I can to support and encourage the team. We each have our own unique gift. David’s gift is in finances. Ricky is the developer and he has passion and the unique eye for going into some of these small towns and launching very successful SONIC locations.

We own a SONIC Drive-In in a small town called Quitman, Arkansas, with just 700-something people. At first David and myself just laughed at Ricky. After about a year of him being persistent about the traffic and the opportunity in that community he won David over but I was the lone standout. So for another year, the two of them tried to convince me we would make it there. Finally I said, “OK, I believe in you guys, but I just want to go on record to say I get the opportunity to say ‘I told you so.’” So we build the Quitman location and it opens at $1.5 million in annual sales from the get go. It does extremely well profit wise, as well as people wise. And so they tell me I no longer have the right to say “no.”

How does SONIC differ from other QSRs in the industry?

It’s all about people. I was taught that SONIC is not a burger business, it is a people business. Our commitment to our people and our relationships plus our unique culture is what makes us different from other QSRs. Most other QSRs are based on either operations or facilities. They are almost a cookie-cutter approach.

At SONIC we also have unbelievably loyal customers. We know most of our customers by name and we’ve even had customers bring carhops Christmas presents. If you interviewed any of our customers they would not refer to our SONIC as the SONIC or the SONIC at this location, they would say “my SONIC.” You can’t be in one of our towns without seeing SONIC as sponsors of everything. Our teams do things that show that we care. It’s just a uniqueness that you don’t see anywhere else in the business.

Learn more about SONIC
For in-depth details about the SONIC franchise opportunity,  request franchise ownership information. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.