by Ann M. Colford and Susan Hamilton & r & & r & Sonic Boom FAST FOOD & r & Sonic Drive-In may have started in 1953 as an American Dream, but to some in Spokane, the long-anticipated arrival of the nation's largest drive-in chain is a nightmare. Neighbors in the Gonzaga district have to deal with traffic jams around Sonic's location on Sharp from Division to Ruby. And if you use the alleyway that serves as Sonic's driveway, forget it. With waits averaging 10 minutes, the alleyway is almost always full of cars and exhaust, as it was the afternoon I stopped by.
"This is the biggest store opening I've ever been involved in," says Selina Harner, manager of the Spokane Sonic, who's been a manager with the company for 15 years. "We've been open three weeks, and it hasn't slowed down. We have to close the alley off at 9:45 pm or we'd never get closed."
If you're in the food business, being popular isn't a problem, it's a boon. But Sonic's popularity is bringing it problems. Flaggers have been hired just to move traffic in and out of the drive-in's 24 car stalls, drive-thru and parking for its 48-seat patio, and to keep traffic from backing up further. "A lot of people are mad at us about the traffic, including the city," Harner says.
So what's Sonic's draw? In a word, nostalgia. "Many of our customers are middle-aged and business people," Harner adds. They may fondly remember the drive-ins of their youth in the '60s and '70s, when drive-in eateries were popular. Nowadays, roller-skating carhops and car service can only be found at a few remaining hot-dog stands or establishments like Sonic.
These middle-agers may also have a fondness for Sonic's fat-laden fast food. Harner says the most popular items at the Spokane Sonic are Supersonic cheeseburgers and anything made with ice cream, like the blasts, shakes and splits. Extra-long cheese coneys (hot dogs with chili and cheese), hand-battered onion rings, pancakes on a stick and tater tots are some of Sonic's signature menu items. Sonic's trademark beverages include cherry limeades, fruit slushes and ice cream pie shakes. -- Susan Hamilton
Sonic Drive-In, 1313 N. Ruby St., is open daily from 7 am-10 pm. Call 532-0091
We Hardly Knew Ye CLOSURE & r & Usually, we talk about exciting new beginnings here, but sometimes we need a reminder of how hard the food business can be. Like when some friends recently ventured out for brunch at the still-new Junebug Caf & eacute; on South Perry, only to find it closed up tight. A letter on the door -- also on the caf & eacute;'s Web site -- explains about problems of undercapitalization and higher-than-expected expenditures while thanking all the customers who became friends.
Junebug created an unusual kind of space, one where parents could feel comfortable taking the little kiddos along without settling for standardized corporate menus or fast food. Given the number of young families who jammed the place on weekends, this is clearly an idea with some currency in the market, so maybe someone else will step forward to capitalize on the idea. -- Ann M. Colford
Crabby Cooks BOOKS & r & I'm a little behind on my cookbook perusal these days, but I finally caught up with two new culinary titles by Washington chefs. Jerry Traunfeld, chef at the memorable Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, put out The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking With Fragrance and Flavor a few months ago. In addition to a great collection of recipes featuring fresh herbs and designed with home cooks in mind, Traunfeld has included explanations about growing and using both common herbs and lesser-known botanicals. And the photos, full of garden colors and soft-focus close-ups, will have you ready to start your own patch of green.
In May, chef Tom Douglas, owner of four Seattle dining landmarks (Dahlia Lounge, Etta's, Palace Kitchen and Lola) and author of two previous titles, released the unambiguous I Love Crab Cakes! (complete with punctuation). As an East Coast native who's lived on the West Coast for years, Douglas gathered 50 crab cake recipes from across the country for this project. He cracks all the issues that divide crab fans: Crumbs or no crumbs? Breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs? Chunks or flakes? Dungeness or King? Up-market or down-home? I'm anxious to dive in and sample some of the recipes that made the final cut. -- Ann M. Colford
Vintage Market DINING & r & Don't forget the Farmers' Market Wine Dinner taking place at Mizuna on the solstice, next Wednesday. Chef Brian Hutchins is creating a multi-course feast starring local food and produce from area farmers' markets. Each course will be paired with its own wine accompaniment, with commentary by John Allen of Vino. -- Ann M. Colford
Farmers' Market Wine Dinner on Wednesday, June 21, at 6:30 pm at Mizuna, 214 N. Howard St. Cost: $65. Reservations required. Call 747-2004.