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String of new Sonic Drive-In locations planned for Eastern Iowa
New locations slated to open late 2023
The owner of more than 100 Sonic Drive-in locations is planning to get his foot in the door with Coralville and Iowa City.
Nik Bhakta, restaurateur and owner of Soar QSR, hopes to open 10 locations in the Iowa City, Davenport and Des Moines metro areas, with the first ones tentatively planned to open by the end of 2023.
The first city to receive a location has not yet been determined, but Iowa City and Coralville are expected to receive three or four of the 10 locations.
“We like what we see along the I-80 Corridor,” Bhakta said.
With 20 years restaurant experience, Iowa is a relatively new market for the New Mexico resident, who has owned hundreds of various fast-food franchise brands like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell across Dallas, Texas.
Since expanding into burger restaurants, he has opened Sonic franchises in Michigan, Ohio, the Northeast, Maryland, Washington, D.C.; Kentucky and Kansas City.
His presence in Iowa started earlier in 2022 when he acquired franchises from owners exiting the market in Davenport, Keokuk and Des Moines.
In addition to a development agreement set for 10 new locations across Iowa City, Davenport and Des Moines, expansion could include Ames and locations in smaller towns near Interstate 80 like Oskaloosa and Ottumwa.
Davenport currently has two Sonic locations. Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Waterloo all previously had Sonic locations, which were closed by their franchisee in 2012.
“Ideally, we are looking to develop one close to the mall, one close to the University (of Iowa) and one on the far southeast side,” Bhakta said. “Additionally, we may look at North Liberty as that area grows.”
The developer hopes to construct new buildings for locations, but is also interested in acquiring buildings from existing restaurants with drive-thru capabilities. Development of the plan will rely heavily on the availability of real estate.
“I think there’s definitely opportunity,” Bhakta said. “(Burger) competitors are prevalent in these territories, but Sonic is not represented well.”
The Sonic concept has become more attractive to developers since the pandemic’s never-ending complications started mounting on restaurants — from labor shortages to supply chain issues.
As Sonic becomes more rooted in Iowa, he said its model is more poised for success in a challenging business environment.
“Quick service restaurants prevailed quite a bit with COVID. We learned we can give up nice clothes, travel, but the one thing we can’t give up on is food,” he said. “At Sonic, we’re geared up for this because we don’t have indoor dining rooms.”
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