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Buffalo may be next stop as Sonic Drive-In heads into Rochester

If local fans of Sonic Drive-In were thrilled to hear the popular fast-food chain is coming to Henrietta, near Rochester, they’ll probably be twice as thrilled to find out the chain may be headed for Buffalo, too.

Franchise group leader Fran DeSimone will develop five drive-ins in the Rochester market over the next four years. The first location, in Henrietta, is expected to open by April 1.

DeSimone confirmed Tuesday that he is also hoping to expand into the Buffalo market by late summer 2014.

“Yes, we are looking to purchase the Buffalo rights, but we haven’t done it yet,” he said.

Sonic Drive-In is known for its retro car-hop service. Customers park their vehicles in covered stalls, order through an intercom and are brought their food by a server on roller skates.

Its menu features classic fast-food fare such as hot dogs, burgers, onion rings and milkshakes, and is known for its slushes and soft drinks that can be customized to nearly 400,000 flavor combinations. The Rochester restaurant will have a large indoor dining room that can be opened into a patio during the warmer months.

DeSimone also owns rights to the fast-casual franchise Corner Bakery Cafe in the Buffalo region.

“We’ve been hearing for years that local residents want a Sonic,” he said.

A spokesman for Sonic said the chain would love to come to Buffalo and that anyone interested in opening a franchise should contact the company.

“As always, there would need to be a combination of the right franchise owner and the right locations,” said Patrick Lenow, a Sonic spokesman. “We have no franchise agreement in place for Buffalo today.”

Western New Yorkers have been viewing Sonic Drive-In commercials on television for years, despite the fact that the closest location until now has been in Chenango – about four hours away. The four other locations in New York State are on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

A few years ago, Jay Berent, of Lockport, was so intrigued by the Sonic commercials he took a road trip to visit one for himself.

“I said, ‘That’s it, I don’t care where the closest one is, I’m going today,’” he said. He ended up spending the night near a Sonic Drive-In in Columbus, Ohio, and eating there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ever since, he has made the pilgrimage once a year.

“When I heard they were coming to Rochester, I called my husband and told him to fill up the gas tank because we’re taking a road trip,” said Laura Wahler, of the Town of Tonawanda.

Growing up in the South, Wahler was surrounded by Sonic Drive-Ins. Seeing commercials for the restaurant without being able to actually visit one was difficult, she said.

“If they’re opening one in Buffalo, I will be first in line,” Wahler said.

The Oklahoma-based fast-food chain is publicly traded on NASDAQ. Shares closed up 12 cents Wednesday, at $14.80.