Sonic drive-ins taking over Dairy Queens in Texas

Monday, November 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (AP) _ Dairy Queen proclaims it's the ``Texas stop sign,'' but Sonic Drive-ins are taking over in small towns across the Lone Star State.

Sonic Corp., whose roots go back to the 1950s in Oklahoma, is expanding in Texas as the spot for ``treats and eats'' shrinks.

``We always like small towns,'' said Lee Ann Bratten, communications manager for Oklahoma City-based Sonic Corp. ``We started out in smaller towns. Even if we decide to put a store in a metropolitan area, we usually put one in a suburban town outside of it first. We love small town America.''

The first Sonic Drive-In opened in Shawnee in 1953. Now there are more than 2,300 drive-ins in the United States _ 680 in Texas and 221 in Oklahoma.

Steve McCans, supervisor of Sonics in Fort Worth, Seymour and Haskell, Texas, said his father, Bill, and his partner Joe Moore own Sonic franchises in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Texas.

A Sonic in Waurika, Okla., is in a remodeled building that once was a Dairy Queen, McCans said. It's one of few Sonics that has an inside eating area.

``Waurika is a town that grew a little bit,'' he said. ``It has very good traffic count on the highway.''

McCans said Dairy Queens and Sonic can usually ``co-exist.''

Dairy Queen started in 1945 in Illinois and expanded into Texas with 750 franchises.

Missouri businessman O.W. Klose bought the rights to open DQs in Texas and started his first store in Austin in 1946.

Officials at Treats Operating Company, which runs nearly 50 Texas DQs, said it's hard to say why Dairy Queens are pulling out of some towns.

``It's a combination of a lot of things _ the rising costs, competition of fast food, decline of populations in small towns and the government continuing to increase the minimum wage,'' said Bill Hall, chairman of the company' board.

The company has had to close eight stores in the Texas Panhandle and West Texas, including in the towns of Quanah and Paducah.

Hall said it's possible the stores could reopen as Dairy Queens or another type of store.

``We're just closing them through the winter to regroup,'' he said. ``They weren't running up to our standards.''

Treats Operating Company recently obtained eight Wichita County DQ franchises, seven of which closed in 1999 when their owner, RDQ Inc., declared bankruptcy. A DQ in Electra is the only one of the eight that remains open.

And in Wichita Falls, Texas, former Dairy Queen buildings now house a Mexican restaurant, a doughnut shop and two breakfast cafes.

Doris Richeson of Graham, Texas, whose Richeson Company sells treats in 50 DQs from Archer City to Del Rio, said business is going well for her.

``The economy has not affected me adversely,'' Richeson said. ``Our business has increased since Sept. 11. Maybe everyone decided to stay home and eat at Dairy Queen.''