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Sonic Drive-in should open in Watertown by summer

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WATERTOWN — Don’t be surprised if you find carhops wearing snowshoes in the winter at the planned Sonic Drive-In fast-food restaurant off outer Arsenal Street.

Rochester franchisee Fran DeSimone told the city Planning Board he is toying with that idea for the drive-in, which will be built on an outer pad in City Center Plaza, near Interstate 81.

“Actually, it’s something we’re considering as a gimmick line,” said Mr. DeSimone, who acknowledges the harshness of north country winters.

On Tuesday, the Planning Board unanimously recommended site-plan approval for the 2,580-square-foot restaurant, contingent on minor changes to the landscaping, parking and lighting plans. The Watertown City Council is expected to give final approval on the site plans Monday night.

Saying the project is on “accelerated construction,” Mr. DeSimone said construction should start in about three weeks, with the restaurant opening before summer.

The site is “shovel ready,” Ryan G. Churchill, an engineer with GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying, Watertown, said.

Mr. DeSimone said he expects the Watertown franchise will be operating before any of the other five Sonic Drive-Ins he plans to open in the Rochester area over the next four years. Five others are planned for the Syracuse area. The Watertown location would be one of a handful of Sonics in upstate New York.

The 48-seat Watertown store initially would employ 100 to 120 workers, and then be whittled down to about 50, Mr. DeSimone said.

The Oklahoma fast-food restaurant chain bills itself as America’s drive-in, and is known for its carhops and large outdoor patios.

While fast-food aficionados cannot get the chain’s food now, they probably have seen the company’s humorous television ads, which feature two guys sitting in the front seat of a car, munching on hot dogs and enjoying milkshakes.

The menu also includes breakfast burritos, hamburgers, chicken and chicken tenders and 1,360,000 combinations of drinks, Mr. DeSimone said.

Planning Board member Linda J. Fields said the milkshakes and sundaes are to die for, adding she can’t wait for the Sonic to open. “I can’t eat it anymore, but I can still drool,” she joked.

Sonic will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight during the week, and until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. on weekends, Mr. DeSimone said.

He also holds ownership roles with the Panera Bread, Burger King and Taco Bell national restaurant chains.

Alexandria Bay developer Patrick M. Donegan owns the plaza.

The Watertown drive-in will join Buffalo Wild Wings, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ruby Tuesday’s, Starbucks, AT&T, Ponderosa, Holiday Inn Express and Hilton Garden Inn already at City Center Plaza, and Moe’s Southwest Grill in Seaway Plaza, across the parking lot from the Chipotle.

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