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Published: Tuesday, 6/3/2008

Sonic chain to rekindle drive-in eatery nostalgia in Toledo area

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Sonic drive-ins, like this one in New York, still uses car-hop bays, even in colder climates. Lent Sonic drive-ins, like this one in New York, still uses car-hop bays, even in colder climates. Lent
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Their wacky commercials have played frequently on Toledo area TV sets. This summer local residents will get to judge for themselves whether Sonic Drive-In's menu is as varied and tasty as it appears.

Local entrepreneur Kevin Lent, a partner in development of area Panera Bread restaurants and who currently owns the San Francisco Oven restaurant in Sylvania, said he has signed a deal to develop up to 16 Sonic Drive-Ins in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan over the next seven years.

The first of the car-hop style Sonics will be in front of Meijer on U.S. 20 in Rossford. It is expected to open in late August.

He plans to build three more in the Toledo area before moving on to other sites in northwest Ohio, including Lima and Findlay, and Adrian in southeast Michigan.

"There could be as many as 16, but we have over seven years to get them done," said Mr. Lent, whose franchise operation is called Fresh Creations LLC.

Sonic, which is headquartered in Oklahoma City and bills itself as America's Drive-In, was primarily a southwest United States restaurant chain but several years ago decided to take its concept to colder climates. It offers a 1950s-style car hop service to sell burgers, fries, and flavored drinks.

It opened franchises in Pennsylvania last year and its first Michigan restaurant in suburban Detroit this spring.

"They've certainly differentiated themselves in the service model and with the drive-in factor," said fast-food industry consultant Dennis Lombardi, of WD Partners, of Columbus.

"They're almost like a drive-in movie. You almost have to take you kids to a Sonic to say you've done it," Mr. Lombardi said, adding that he expected the chain to do well in Ohio.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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