Tacoma Sonic drive-in fans, the wait is almost over.
The first of the iconic drive-ins featuring roller-skating carhops and fresh-fruit limeades is little more than three weeks away from opening.
If that opening is anything like the debut of the first Sonic in Western Washington, on Puyallup’s South Hill 15 months ago, expect an overflow crowd.
The drive-in at Sixth Avenue and Orchard Street is now in the final construction stage, said Sonic local franchise owner J. David Orem.
“We’ll be installing the appliances this week, putting up the patio heaters, doing the final concrete work and hanging the signs soon,” Orem said.
The tentative public grand opening date is Aug . 10.
The drive-in was originally scheduled to open in April, but complications at the site slowed progress on construction, Orem said.
That site, the parking lot of the now-razed Busch’s Restaurant, needed to be excavated to remove unsuitable fill that had been disposed of decades ago.
The lot contained waste concrete, tree stumps and other debris, Orem said. Construction workers speculated that some of the debris was dumped on the site during the construction of the nearby state Route 16.
The site’s drainage required more work than originally planned, the franchise owner said. The city required that the drive-in have a full-fledged retention pond to contain the storm water draining from the parking lot.
Once the construction is complete, the company will begin training the 90 workers hired to staff the drive-in. That training will include for some workers learning how to roller skate while carrying trays of food.
“We start with one cup of water on the tray and move upward from there,” Orem said.
Some employees, he said, are natural-born skaters. Others require more practice. The drive-in will furnish the car hops conventional roller skates or those employees can furnish their own if they have a pair that they’re accustomed to .
“A lot of employees bring their own in-line skates,” he said.
Most management employees at the Tacoma Sonic are moving from Orem’s other two Sonics, the original one on South Hill and the second store in Bonney Lake.
Both drive-ins are doing well, he said, despite the recession. Business at the South Hill location has calmed from the gold-rush pace of the first few weeks after it opened in the spring of 2009. Crowds were so heavy, the drive-in had to hire police to direct traffic. Cars waiting for an open space at the restaurant were queued up in a nearby parking lot.
Sonic, headquartered in Oklahoma City, was founded in 1953 in Shawnee, Okla.
The chain, with 3,500 restaurants nationwide, calls itself “America’s Drive-in.”
Like most fast-food restaurants, Sonic has incorporated value specials into its menu and has featured promotional items such as free ice cream or fries from time to time to reward loyal customers, he said.
“Since the economy softened, there’s been a skewing toward the value end of the menu,” said Orem who also presides over a chain of local Taco Bell eateries.
Once the first Tacoma Sonic location is up and running, Orem will turn his attention to other locations, he said. He is currently considering another Tacoma area location in Spanaway and another location in Lacey.