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Nostalgic Fast Food Chain Sonic Plots First-Ever Manhattan Location

The popular national chain hits up Midtown in its latest expansion plans — but there won’t be a drive-in

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A large Sonic sign against a blue sky background Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

Nostalgic fast food franchise Sonic — home of chili cheese tots, limeades, and its signature drive-in service — is headed to Manhattan. The Real Deal reports that the Oklahoma City-based chain will open a new location in Midtown, at 966 Sixth Avenue, between West 35th and West 36th streets. An opening date has not been disclosed yet.

The opening marks the chain’s second restaurant in NYC, following a 2015 debut on the southern end of Staten Island. Not surprisingly, some adjustments had to be made for Manhattan’s limited real estate. While New Yorkers will be able to walk up and grab a burger and a limeade at this location, there will be no drive-in or drive-thru service at the Midtown shop, according to the Real Deal. Manhattan customers will have to still travel to Sonic’s next-nearest location in New Jersey to get the full drive-in experience.

A location of Pax Wholesome Foods, which has since shut down, previously occupied the 2,000 square-foot Midtown space.

The NYC deal is part of a larger expansion effort by Sonic, according to the Real Deal. The chain, which has over 3,000 locations nationwide, announced longterm plans in 2014 to add 1,000 more locations over the next 10 years. Parent company Inspire Brands also owns other fast food franchises including Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jimmy John’s, and Rusty Taco.

While fast food chains have not been immune to the economic effects of the pandemic in the city, some chains have been able to grow their total number of NYC locations in the middle of the crisis. According to the Center for an Urban Future’s annual study tracking net change in the amount of chain stores in NYC, Popeye’s grew by 11 locations, Chipotle gained six locations, and Domino’s added one location in the city in 2020. Other chains still took a hit: Dunkin’ Donuts shrunk by 18 locations, Burger King shrunk by seven locations, and McDonald’s ended the year with five fewer NYC locations. In general, fast food chains, which have always been structured around quick, easy, to-go service, have been able to weather the economic devastation of the pandemic with more success than full-service restaurants.

Eater has reached out for more details about the NYC opening.