Editor's note: This article was first published in the May 15-31 issue of The Trucker newspaper.
Around the Bend
A column by Dorothy Cox
With all the horror stories from truckers about not being able to park at various Wal-Mart stores or at town parking lots and the like — and even being turned away from some restaurants — we were happy to learn that a Sonic in Valliant, Okla., has built a menu board 3 feet taller than normal to reach a trucker’s cab door, installed a wide road and curved drive so that 18-wheelers can get in and out without having to turn around, and installed a big banner outside saying, “Truckers Welcome.”
The Sonic is at 1001 West Wilson in Valliant on Highway 70 between Hugo, at the end of the Indian Nation Turnpike, and Idabel.
There are several reasons why Sonic franchise owners Tommy and Julie Dorries went to all that trouble to accommodate truck drivers, the number one being that Julie’s father, Jimmy Provence, was a long-haul trucker in his younger days and later a timber hauler in and around the small logging town of Valliant.
The couple wanted Mr. Provence to be the first person to drive through the Sonic when it opened on Feb. 4, but he passed away at age 69 from invasive skin cancer on Feb. 12, and had been too sick to drive through or even see this trucker-friendly Sonic, possibly the first of its kind anywhere.
Julie said it’s a fitting tribute to her dad. “He would have been very proud, I know that.”
“Valliant is little” and having a Sonic built to accommodate truckers “kind of put Valliant on the map and the community is all happy about it,” said Tommy Dorries.
“My dad was in trucking all my life,” Julie related. “He had eight brothers. That’s all they know how to do, be in the logging business.”
“We have a lot of trucks” coming through town, Tommy said. “The logging industry is pretty well the economy of the area [and] we have the paper mill.”
They get over-the-road truckers, too, and some park on the side of the road because they’re not used to being able get in a drive-through, the Dorries said.
Truckers who pull in don’t even have to push the buzzer to order. The menu has a magnetic sensor and “all they have to do is roll the window down and pull up to the menu board; it reacts to the truck and triggers as if they had pushed a button and the operator will answer and take their order,” said Tommy.
“I don’t know how many truckers we’re getting a day, now,” he said, “maybe 30. As they learn we’re here, they start doing business with us.”
If the tall menu board for truckers is busy and another trucker wants to order a car hop will skate out with a mini menu and note pad and take their order, Tommy said, with Julie adding, “We try to get to them as fast as we can because we know they’ve got to get back on the road.”
If they begin to get more trucker business than they can handle, Tommy said they’ll just “keep adding stalls if we need to. We’ve got the land to do it; we’ll just expand farther out. Truckers go back there and sleep and we tell them if they want to bed down for the night, to bed down.”
The Dorries plan to put a CB in the restaurant so they can communicate with logging truckers at the mill just a few miles away and take their orders ahead of time and either have it ready for them or take the orders to them.
“We took 700 toaster sandwiches out to the paper mill” one morning, Tommy said. “They get up at 1 a.m. cooking for them.”
He’s proud of the way truckers have responded. “One car hop came back in; she was so excited. She said a trucker told her, ‘It was the best thing since he was put on the face of this earth.’ And he wasn’t a local trucker, either.”
Tommy has had a CDL for a long time and hauled dirt in to the Sonic lot with his own dump truck before the restaurant was built, which is another reason the couple, who have been married 32 years, wanted to make the Sonic accessible to truckers.
Tommy said it took them about 11 years to convince Sonic they should have a franchise because they thought Valliant was too small a town for the restaurant to be successful.
“We kept calling,” he said. “When Julie and I were dating as teenagers we went to the Sonic every weekend. It’s always been our favorite restaurant. Still is. We eat there every day.”
Their daughter, Kayla, helps out and their son, Shawn, did grade cutting on the lot to get it ready to build.
“We all worked together and it worked out really well,” Tommy said.
The restaurant also has accommodated baseball teams in buses, a golf team and come fall they expect to get plenty of football teams in buses. “We’re very sports minded,” Julie said, adding that they’ve hired cheerleaders and members of the football team as car hops.
“We never know every day what we’ll get into,” Julie said. “It makes life not boring.”
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