Mesa fast food crew goes for Sonic gold - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Mesa fast food crew goes for Sonic gold

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012 9:00 am | Updated: 11:55 am, Fri Sep 7, 2012.

During the course of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, we became familiar with the U.S. gold medal gymnastics team known as the “Fab Five” and later, the “Fierce Five.”

But little did we know, in east Mesa, there’s a “Spectacular Six” — not performing on the balance beam or high bar, mind you, but a crew that serves up fast food with the speed and precision of a select few across the nation akin to a throwback era of sock hops and soda shops.

It all stems from Valerie Kinsella creating a Sonic boom at the popular drive-in eatery in east Mesa, and in the next few days, the longtime manager’s crew of six will showcase their food preparation and customer service skills on a national level.

On Sunday, Kinsella and her crew of Sonic employees from the location at 10060 E. Southern Ave. at Crismon Road are leaving for an all-expense paid trip to San Antonio, Texas, where the national Sonic conference is taking place. While there, Kinsella’s team will be competing among 12 crews for the bragging rights of who’s best in the 19th Annual Dr. Pepper Sonic Games, a national Olympic-style competition between employees from around the United States where a crew will be slammed with 22 orders and have to complete all of them in at least 30 minutes or less.

In addition to Kinsella, the Sonic employees competing from Mesa will be: A’Lyse Huey on swamp; Dylan Abbott, carhopping; Carly Fears on fountain drinks; Tiger Bertolini on grill; Hunter Grandlich on food dressing (adding condiments) and Keirstyn Grabek on switchboard.

The competition includes employees putting their station skills to the test — grill and swamp (food preparation and cooking), fountain drink preparation, switchboard (service delivery) as well as carhopping — getting the orders out the door on roller skates. Not only can they win a gold medal, they can win cash and a respectable amount of recognition.

“It’s all about teamwork and customer service. That’s the bottom line in the fast-food service,” said Kinsella of Chandler, a nine-year Sonic employee, who has worked at the Sonic in east Mesa since it opened in July 2008. “You have to excel.”

While they will begin competing at a Sonic Drive-in in San Antonio on Monday, Kinsella said, “We’ll be getting slammed with 22 orders, and we’ll have to have them cooked, bagged and delivered within 30 minutes. Our goal here is to get an order out the door in three minutes or less.”

Next week’s event won’t be the first time a crew competed in the Sonic Games under Kinsella’s supervision. In 2005, she took a crew from a Sonic in Gilbert — and won the gold. Her team competing next week includes one of her crew members from that gold medal crew — A’Lyse Huey.

Kinsella’s crew, who range in age from 18 to 25, found out they were selected to attend Sonic’s “Big Show” on Aug. 3 after the employees underwent a series of tests and safety audits and emerged in the “Top 12” from more than 2,500 Sonic crews who participated in the qualifying rounds.

And next week’s Sonic Games, which take place on Monday and Tuesday will give the crew from the East Valley a chance to compete for both individual and team medals — gold, silver and bronze.

“It’s about recognition and a lot of cash, but it’s not so much about winning the money,” Kinsella added. “People always ask us how much we can win, but it’s really about the recognition. When you win, you’re standing on the stage being recognized in front of a lot of people from around the country who run Sonics. The goal is to win the gold. Our strategy is a secret. We don’t want to divulge that.”

Kinsella was quick to say that success and precision is critical at every station — but admitted that the carhop is a tough job.

Conjuring up images of the 1950s carhops on the 1970s hit television show, “Happy Days,” Kinsella said, “A carhop is on roller skates and they’re going out the door fast with a tray of food. It takes a lot of skill to deliver an order — drinks, ice cream, fries and burgers without dropping it.”

Carhops have provided a presence at Sonic since the drive-in eatery opened in 1953 as the Top Hat Drive-In, a hamburger and root beer stand in Shawnee, Okla. Sonic, which has more than 3,500 drive-ins in 43 states, serves approximately three million customers a day, according to information from the Oklahoma-based company.

Huey, 25, of Gilbert, who has worked at Sonic off and on for eight years, said, “We’re ready, we’re excited and we know we can do this.”

Carhop Dylan Abbott, hopes to balance it all out and help bring home the gold by not crashing on his skates while completing the final step of the food ordering process.

After all, Dylan, a junior at Arizona State University majoring in physics, who has been working at Sonic for three years, said he’s a little nervous about going to nationals, but being a carhop now is really second nature.

“I’m hoping that if I do what I’ve always been doing, and go out there with a good attitude, we could bring home the gold ... It’s all about caring about the process and doing the best I can.”

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