LAYTON — Honey, I shrunk the Sonic.
A smaller version of the popular drive-in restaurant chain just opened in Layton. And it’s the first of its kind in the nation.
Called Sonic 3D, the new business model offers indoor seating, a drive-thru window and a limited menu that focuses on specialty soft drinks, ice cream, hot dogs and a few other snacks.
The 3D stands for “Drinks, Dogs, & Desserts.” Rick Timmons, a franchisee who with his partners owns all 19 Sonic locations in Utah as well as four in Idaho, said the new concept basically takes the most popular menu items from a traditional Sonic Drive-In and presents them in a slightly different way.
“We’ve been watching the trends in the market for the last couple of years, and had noticed that there’s a need for better access to some of our more popular products — and a way to present them,” he said.
At the heart of the Sonic 3D experience are 30 “curated drinks,” mixing various fruit purees and other sweet add-ins with regular and diet versions of Coke, Dr. Pepper, Sprite and other soda pops. They feature names like “Online Date” (Coke with vanilla and sweet cream), “Rainbow Rush” (Sprite with cherry and Nerds candy), and “Dessert’d Island” (a limeade with passion fruit puree and lime).
Timmons says his particular favorites among the curated drinks are “Sweet Tooth” (root beer, caramel and a dollop of ice cream), “Raspberry Blonde” (Coke with fresh raspberry puree and sweet cream) and “The Jolly Apple” (Dr. Pepper with green apple flavoring, caramel and bits of Jolly Rancher candy).
The Sonic 3D opened June 1 in a renovated gas station at 14 N. Fort Lane, in Layton. While Timmons claims Sonic offers 1.3 million different flavor combinations, he says they’ve been surprised at the popularity of the 30 curated drinks. Timmons says he’d have been happy if those pre-designed drinks on the menu made up just 30 to 40 percent of sold drinks in the first two weeks of operation.
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“But I was wildly surprised,” Timmons said. “I’d say closer to 80 percent of our drink sales have been the curated drinks.”
Timmons acknowledges that the new Sonic 3D resembles the recent trend of specialty soda pop shops like Fiiz, Swig and Sodalicious. However, he’s quick to point out that Sonic has been mixing soft drinks for a long time.
“I think there are some similarities there, but Sonic has been doing those mixed and unique flavors for 60-plus years,” he said. “So I’d almost say that they’re more similar to what we do.”
In addition to these signature soft drinks, Sonic 3D also offers milkshakes and ice-cream-infused drinks, fresh-baked cookies, chips, soft pretzels and five different hot dogs.
Timmons said the idea behind the food offered at Sonic 3D is more snack-type fare. And because they don’t do burgers, fries, chicken fingers and other meal options, it doesn’t require a full-sized kitchen.
“From an operational perspective, we want to put these (new stores) in very small spaces,” he said. “They’re places where you wouldn’t want to invest in a large-scale carhop drive-in.”
Unlike the full-size Sonic Drive-Ins, which often feature a “Happy Hour” discount on drinks, Timmons says Sonic 3D will offer a “loyalty-building approach” utilizing a punch card.
“Every time you order a milkshake or drink of any type, after eight punches you get a free drink or milkshake,” he said.
If the 3D concept works, Timmons says Utahns may see more of these mini Sonic restaurants. He says they’re currently monitoring sales at the new store as well as scouting for future locations.
“I think, definitely, Sonic had decided Utah would be a great place to try this new concept,” Timmons said.
And not only that, but Layton was a natural fit for the first Sonic 3D.
“Layton happens to be one of our highest-volume restaurants in Utah,” Timmons said. “And this new location is close to our other Layton Sonic location — but obviously not too close.”