Serving Up Commitment to Community

May 14, 2021 | by Doug Donahoo

Liz and Gary Simons embodied the title of owner-operators when they opened their first Sonic Drive-In in 1979 in Richmond, Mo. Liz would take the orders, slide the paper over to Gary who was working the grill, and Liz would deliver the food to the waiting diners.

More than four decades later, a lot has changed for the two. Their office is no longer the screaming hot flattop grill. Nor do they have to brave the elements dashing from door to car with bags in hand.

Instead, they’re taking the lessons learned from those years of dedicated service to their one restaurant and putting it to work serving an entire city. Both at their 35 area locations and out of the back of Salvation Army canteens.

“Sonic has always encouraged company stores and franchisees to be involved in the community,” Liz Simons said from the Northland Sonic Drive-Ins’ corporate office in Liberty, Mo. “It’s our philosophy that if you’re a good neighbor in your community then everything else will fall into place.”

Being a good neighbor starts with serving good food and providing good jobs, but for the Simons, that was only a start.

“We’ve looked for opportunities to serve throughout the community in our industry, which is food.”

That started primarily focused on Kansas City homeless shelters, where they served dinner to residents. Then in the early 2000’s, Northland Sonic expanded dramatically by purchasing several Sonic corporate stores. Suddenly, the husband-and-wife team who started grilling together found themselves operating stores from the Northland to Olathe.

“We felt like we needed another opportunity to serve another part of the community and when we heard about Honk and Holler, we said, ‘Wow.’”


Sonic employees load up a Salvation Army canteen with hamburgers for that evening's Honk n Holler

Honk and Holler is The Salvation Army’s feeding program aiding individuals struggling with homelessness around downtown Kansas City. A Salvation Army mobile kitchen or canteen hits the streets three nights a week, delivering hot meals, snacks, water, and other necessities to people trying to survive.

The Simons realized they had the facilities and the ability to make that process a little easier on the staff and volunteers. Now, once a month, the canteen will visit the North Kansas City Sonic location, where employees will load up a giant, insulated container with hot, fresh hamburgers and, often, other goodies.

That day saves time for The Salvation Army in food prep and gives clients of Honk and Holler a special menu to look forward to each month.

“If it’s a really cold night, a hot hamburger is a really good thing,” Simons said.

She’s also introspective that one hamburger may not be the key to getting someone off the streets and into a home, but it is an important step in the journey.

“If we all contribute together, we can accomplish big things.”

Honk and Holler has long been used as an outreach vehicle, providing consistent contact to an often forgotten and overlooked population in Kansas City. With each night and each meal, clients grow to trust that someone cares about them as individuals. Eventually, that trust can lead an individual to ask for that help to get off the streets.

For Liz, Gary, and their entire team at Sonic, grilling those hamburgers is a rewarding part of a bigger effort to keep people fed.

“I can’t express to you enough how being a part of something so good is so important to us. The ladies and gentlemen who provide this food each month will tell you they get a lot more out of it than they put in.”


Three nights a week the Honk n Holler canteen serves a hot meal and provides a bag of snacks to more than 150 people struggling with homelessness in Kansas City.

It’s that dedication that make Northland Sonic Drive-Ins the obvious choice for The Salvation Army’s annual OTHERS honor. Named after General William Booth’s command to help others in one-word telegram, the award is presented to companies that go above and beyond in their service to help people in need.

Liz Simons understands her job is selling hamburgers, fries, and shakes. However, she, her husband, and the entire staff at their 35 restaurants see a bigger purpose in the work they do. Because, what started in one location now covers an entire metro area, so their commitment is to every corner of the city they serve.

“We are all Kansas Citians. It says a lot about a community about how they take care of those that are in a bad spot in life. Together we can accomplish big things.”

To lend your support to Honk and Holler and the entire Salvation Army, click here to donate now.


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