It wasn't until they reached 230,000 that Denise and Desiree Verrett reached their last straw — literally.
Since March, the twins have been unwrapping straws, cutting straws, gluing straws, pulling straws apart to start over, then gluing them again.
Not once did they consider stopping until, 230,000 straws later, a tiger's face emerged from the chaos.
That tiger now overlooks the dining room of the new hybrid Sonic at 6808 Siegen Lane, accommodating drive-up, drive-thru and dine-in customers.
The 18-year-old sisters attend Lee High School, where Desiree is a senior and Denise is a junior, having been held back a grade.
Both are aspiring artists, something their art teacher, Susan Arnold, already knew. And it was something their other teachers would soon find out.
"I'd sit in math class cutting straws while our teacher lectured," Desiree said. "And they are everywhere. The janitor was finding them in the corners, and he asked what we were doing."
It's a question lots of people have been asking since the twins answered Lori Moresi's ad in February. Moresi is the marketing director for Kergan Brothers Sonic, whose south Louisiana, 56-location franchise includes the new restaurant on Siegen.
The new establishment's dining area is large, and owner Ted Kergan knew he wanted it to reflect both its national name and Baton Rouge.
"Our red straws are unique," Moresi said. "Sonic is known for its drinks, both its happy hour and morning drinks. And we always use the red straws. We wanted local artists for the job, so we put out a search for a local artist who would be interested in creating something from the straws."
The Verretts answered the call.
"They came in and interviewed," Moresi said. "We wanted to do a tiger since this is Baton Rouge. They said, 'Oh, no problem.' They told us they'd had experience working with recycled art using coffee stirrers at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum when they were in junior high. Then we told them there would be two pieces. They said it would be no problem. These girls are so talented and down to earth."
The second piece is a Sonic cup also made completely from straws.
The teens were given 230,000 sonic straws, each individually wrapped. That's when they recruited their "assistants" — senior Jalin Walker, 18, and junior Pratima Pinnepalli, 16 — to help.
"We were given bags, and each of the bags had 200 straws," Denise Verrett said. "We had to unwrap them before we could do anything else. We started out slow, but it only took us 15 minutes for each bag once we got going."
Then the art began.
The teens drew out the cup but the tiger was a different challenge.
"We really couldn't draw him out, so we just did it by trial and error," Desiree Verrett said. "We hot-glued the straws, but if they weren't turning out the way we wanted them to, we'd take a pair of pliers and pull the straws off. That happened more than once."
Then there was the problem of working with only one color. That's when the Verretts, along with their assistants, began cutting the straws in different length, which allowed the sculpted effect to take shape.
"We realized we would have to use shadows to define the piece," Desiree Verrett said. "And with the cup, trying to make curved shapes with the straws was a challenge. We wanted to keep the integrity of the cup — we wanted to make textures without destroying the design."
The teens worked on the project after school and on weekends. Their dad oftentimes would supply them with energy drinks and doughnuts in late hours.
"The hardest step of all was getting started," Denise Verrett said. "We just took the first step and started on the background."
"We tried making a model out of clay at first, but we had to scrap it," Denise Verrett added. "We had to apply drafting and trigonometry. We always said we wouldn't have any use for it, but our math teacher said yes we would. And we did."
The two pieces were reinforced with plywood, then fronted by plexiglass during the installation. Plaques with the twins' names, along with their assistants, also were installed in the restaurant.
Kergan admitted that when the project was proposed he didn't know what straw art was.
"I had no idea how fantastic it was going to be," he said. "I am completely bowled over."
Though the project is completed, the straw mess will continue. The franchise has commissioned the Verretts to create pieces for its other restaurants.
"There are straws in the carpet," Desiree Verrett said. "They're everywhere. Our school knew we were doing this project, and our teachers were all very supportive. Now we'll do more."