Jay and Cathy Grillo of Keansburg were parked in their car at noon on Sunday, feasting on grilled cheese and Tater Tots with ketchup at Middletown's new Sonic — a nearby outpost of the national burger fast food chain that features delivery by 1950s-style carhops on roller skates.
It was their second trip to the fast-food restaurant at Route 35 and Harmony Road since it opened 10 days before.
"I like the carhops," Jay Grillo said through his rolled down window. "It brings back a little face-to-face atmosphere. It's more personal." His wife was more blunt. "I'm pregnant," she said. "I had a craving."
It won't take long for business to heat up, said franchise owner Anthony Cirillo, of Freehold. The warm weather will bring customers streaming in. To prepare Sonic has hired about 120 people — mostly teens on limited schedules — to work the fryers, scoop ice cream and serve customers. Beginning April 1, the drive-in will be open 24 hours a day.
Cirillo, with his wife Karen, have launched Sonic Drive-Ins in Tinton Falls, Howell and Edison. Future projects are a Sonic for Paige Avenue in Staten Island, and perhaps a presence on the Point Pleasant or Seaside boardwalks.
"This is going to be one of our best ones, because we have the Route 35 highway traffic," said Cirillo, on Sunday. To avoid backed-up traffic on the busy roadway, customers seeking to park and eat are directed to enter from the Harmony Road side. Drive-thru customers are supposed to enter from Route 35 side.
The Middletown Sonic has 17 drive-in stalls, where customers in cars place their orders by pushing a red button and shouting their order into a speaker. There is an outdoor patio with six tables. Speakers broadcast pop music.
Breakfast is served all day. The company says some of the most popular items, day or night, is a Breakfast Burrito, Toaster Sandwiches (sandwiches served on thick Texas Toast), Footlong Quarter Pound Coneys (hot dogs with chili and cheese) and the Frozen Favorites treats.
Originally called Top Hat Drive-In, Sonic began in Shawnee, Oklahoma as a hamburger and root beer stand in 1953. It has now has more than 3,500 locations in 43 states.
The drive-in’s operating hours are 7 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.