Sonic boom or Sonic bust in Danbury?

Hi everyone,

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the Dec. 30, 2011, print edition of The News-Times.

If you’ve been craving a burger and a cherry limeade from a Sonic restaurant in Danbury, don’t expect to place your order anytime soon.

At least not until the spring or summer, anyway.

After nearly 18 months of false starts, nothing has changed for the Sonic drive-in proposed for the Newtown Road parking lot near Xpect Discounts.

No groundbreaking.

No restaurant.

No anything.

Here’s why: Xpect Discounts, the anchor tenant in the shopping center owned by Danbury-Newtown, LLC, was upset with the deal ironed out by the Daser Restaurant Group, the Sonic franchisee, and Danbury-Newtown, LLC.

In fact, Xpect Discounts sought a permanent injunction to block Sonic from coming, even though Danbury officials approved the site plans for Sonic months ago.

Sources claim the dispute is largely over parking space. Sonic’s business model is a pure drive-in operation, with outdoor tables and carhop service. There is no indoor seating at Sonic restaurants.

The two sides in the dispute — Danbury-Newtown, LLC, and Marc Glassman Inc., the Cleveland-based parent company of Xpect Discounts — recently wrapped up a trial at state Superior Court in New Haven before William Hadden, judge trial referee.

Hadden hasn’t issued his ruling yet, so it is unclear when — or even if — Sonic burgers will ever hit the grill at the Newtown Road location.

“I only know what I hear, but it’s my understanding all the legal issues have been resolved,” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said (Dec. 29). “I just checked with my staff last week.

“We really haven’t heard too much from Sonic. Hopefully, they’ll do something there in the spring,” Boughton said. “But if that site doesn’t work out, we’ll contact the franchisee and find another site for them.”

Doug Slater, one of the principals of the Daser Restaurant Group, said (Dec. 29) he is “dying” to set up a Sonic drive-in restaurant in Danbury.

“I don’t have any information to tell you, but we’re hopeful,” Slater said. “If I gave you a time frame, I’d be pulling it out of (thin air).”

Listen, I get that it costs big bucks — really big bucks — to bankroll one of these Sonic franchises. According to the Sonic website, there’s a $45,000 franchise fee and a total up-front investment between $710,000 and $3 million.

On top of that, Oklahoma-based Sonic Industries, LLC, requires royalty fees of 4 to 5 percent and advertising fees of 5.9 percent, according to the Sonic website.

But right now — just hours away from 2012 — it looks like Danbury’s Sonic boom is more like a Sonic bust, cherry limeade and all.

In contrast, there were 963 Sonic drive-in locations in Texas, 270 in Oklahoma and 223 in Tennessee as of last May, according to the Sonic website — 45 states in all.

Slater is eager to add to those numbers.

Along with owning the Sonic franchise rights to Danbury, Daser Restaurant Group already owns Sonic restaurants in Kingston, N.Y. — the first Sonic in New York state — and sister properties in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., and Newburgh, N.Y.

The Daser Restaurant Group, however, isn’t part of Sonic of Connecticut, which includes existing Sonic drive-ins in Wallingford and Manchester, and plans to open future locations in Milford, Berlin, New Haven, Southington, Enfield and the Hartford area.

“I’m optimistic about Sonic coming to Danbury. We want them here,” Boughton said. “I think the public is pretty jazzed up about them coming, too.”

Just don’t expect to place your Sonic order anytime soon.

Brian Koonz