Sonic Expands Into Central Ohio
(Wednesday, February 28, 2007) - Columbus has long been fertile territory for food ventures, with its reputation as a reliable test market and its status as home to several national restaurant chains.
But America's fourth-largest burger chain hasn't operated in Central Ohio until now. Sonic Corp. opened a restaurant at 3661 E. Main St. in Whitehall this month and it expects to run many more in the area very soon.
The company envisions opening 25 to 35 restaurants in Central Ohio, with its signature skating carhops serving burgers and shakes in Heath, Grove City and possibly London, Pickerington and New Albany by the end of the year.
"When we go into a market, we go into it strong," said Bruce Hillwertz, Sonic's supervising partner in Columbus and the executive who will oversee much of its development here.
While the planned Sonics would amount to a fraction of the 97 McDonald's and 78 Wendy's restaurants in the region, reaching its development target would put the chain on par with Burger King's 31 restaurants in Central Ohio and eclipse the 20 stores run by hometown chain White Castle System Inc. and the 15 Rally's drive-throughs operated by Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. Among burger chains, Sonic trails just McDonald's Corp., Burger King Holdings Inc. and Dublin-based Wendy's International Inc., according to QSR Magazine.
Sonic has been around for 54 years, but its move into Ohio has been slow and largely avoided the state's biggest cities. The chain runs three restaurants in suburban Cincinnati - two that arrived in 1993 and one that opened last year - as well as one each in Athens, Jackson and Nelsonville. It has franchise agreements for up to 21 more restaurants in the Cincinnati area.
"We're always looking at what our growth opportunities are," said Drew Ritger, Sonic's senior vice president of development. "It was always a question of whether or not the company was ready."
Finding a Central Ohio franchisee, he acknowledged, helped spur the move into Columbus by the company, which is 80 percent franchised.
"We've done very well in the Midwest," Ritger said. "We've felt strongly about Columbus and thought it is a good place to bring the brand."
Most of the Central Ohio restaurants will be owned by the company, but Sonic has a franchise agreement for 10 restaurants in the northwestern reaches of the area with Fore Foods LLC, a partnership of Robert Moock, Scott Shively and Greg Zurlage. Moock co-owns Wendell's Pub in Westerville and Wendell's Alumni Grille near Ohio State University.
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