Arkadelphia News

Sonic’s closing: What we know

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

When a student worker at Henderson State University finished his shift one evening last week, he placed a food order at Sonic using the company’s mobile app.

By the time he pulled up to Arkadelphia’s favorite drive-in to get his food, the restaurant had closed, turning him and others away. “No soup for you,” he would have been told if he were a Seinfeld character. His order was denied, but his bank account was charged for the order.

Since the night of Tuesday, Feb. 7, Sonic’s sudden and mysterious closing has been on the minds of its loyal customers.

In a telephone conversation with The Arkadelphian earlier this week, the Clark County Health Unit confirmed that no health code violations prompted its closing. We reached out to Michael Harris, director of operations for the Van Dorn Group based in Woodward, Oklahoma. We called three times and left two voicemails earlier this week, but got no response by Thursday.

The bays at Sonic Drive-In in Arkadelphia remain empty a week after the popular drive-thru closed. | Joel Phelps/The Arkadelphian

The Van Dorn Group owns five Sonic Drive-In locations in Oklahoma and Kansas, and one location in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The local restaurant employs more than 20 workers and, until last week, served a steady flow of customers seven days a week. Apparently, though, the restaurant’s sales aren’t enough to cover food cost or payroll.

Employees who spoke with us did so under the condition of anonymity from fear of retaliation from upper management. One grill cook said his bank refused to cash his paycheck because Sonic had insufficient funds to cover the amount; he and other Sonic employees told us they were able to get them cashed elsewhere. Workers are due another paycheck on Feb. 21.

One source close to management reported the restaurant was unable to pay its food vendors and therefore was forced to close up shop. “The only issue is money,” the source said. “We don’t have enough money to buy the food from the trucks, and we have problems covering payroll.”

The restaurant netted $29,000 in sales during the first week of February.

In recent months the Arkadelphia store held four fundraisers for Arkadelphia Public Schools, pledging 20% of its evening sales to various campuses. The marquee outside Sonic still advertises a fundraiser it held for the Arkadelphia High School Badgers. The source had no knowledge of whether those funds were doled out to the schools. The school district’s business office said Thursday it had no receipts reflecting a Sonic fundraiser.

The source with management knowledge said the Arkadelphia restaurant performs better financially than the other Sonic locations owned by Van Dorn Group, so closing this restaurant is frustrating not only for its loyal customers but also its employees. “We thought about planning a walkout” prior to the most recent closing, the source said. “We’ve been going through this the past six or seven months.” The Arkadelphia store closed temporarily in July for similar reasons.

Learning whether Arkadelphia’s Sonic Drive-In will re-open anytime soon is much like pressing the red button on the order board: you’re at the mercy of the voice on the other line. This fact rings true for both customers and employees. “We’re still waiting to find out what’s going to happen, just like the community,” the source said.

Customers whose orders went unfulfilled using the mobile app are encouraged to contact Sonic’s complaint line and explain the situation for a refund.

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6 replies »

  1. “The restaurant netted $29,000 in sales during the first week of February.”

    How can you net $29,000 in one week, and not be able to pay your bills? Someone’s hands are deep in the till over at The Van Dorn Group, is my guess.

  2. I worked there 30 years ago and lower management was actively stealing from carhops (ie: your till matched but somehow you were $20 under almost daily) and upper management knew about it and did nothing. It was the worst job. I’m not surprised they aren’t paying vendors/workers. This scam has been going on for a long time.

  3. Somebody was corrupt,eh? I would imagine law enforcement is involved in an investigation into the embezzler and that would explain the lack of correspondence to your contact attempts. Somebody got rich quick,hope they enjoyed it while it lasted

  4. Someone with the resources and vendor licenses would be smart to buy that property and open up another drive in restaurant there! No brainer within walking distance of 2 big University campuses! Wish I was rich