SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

June 3, 2010

Lightning strike closes Sonic temporarily

PEABODY — A lightning strike yesterday afternoon fried the computer system of Sonic restaurant and closed the popular Route 1 fast-food spot for more than 24 hours.

Crews from three different companies were scrambling yesterday afternoon to repair damaged software, hardware and wiring so Sonic could reopen by last night or today, said Robert Webb, director of operations for the franchise.

Calling itself "America's Drive-in," Sonic offers drive-through and car-side service. It has 2,800 locations throughout the country. The Peabody franchise, the first in New England, is the busiest, Webb said.

The lightning strike occurred at about 2:50 p.m.

"It hit a light pole in the parking lot and traveled throughout the (restaurant's) entire canopy," Webb said.

No one was injured, but the bright flash followed by a loud bang rattled the nerves of employees.

"It was a loud, loud bang," Webb said. "It felt like a truck hit the side of the building."

The lightning damaged Sonic's computer system and made it impossible for it to stay open.

"It knocked everything out," Webb said.

The majority of customer orders are wirelessly conveyed from remote drive-up menu stations to computers inside the restaurant. "There (now) is no mode of communication," Webb said yesterday afternoon.

The closure is a financial hit Sonic has had to absorb, he said. It otherwise would be open 20 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Specializing in burgers, fries, shakes and slushes, Sonic approximates a dining experience that reached its peak in the middle of the last century. Servers crisscross the parking lot in rollerskates.

When it opened in Peabody last August, the crowds backed up traffic on Route 1 north.

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