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When it comes to Sonic Drive-In’s long-awaited opening in Columbus, a lyric from Swedish rock band Europe perhaps says it best: “It’s the final countdown.”

Sonic is set to open for business at 2012 23rd Street within two weeks, according to Joe Nauertc, of The Esch Group. The latter is a Sonic franchise organization that in 2018 bought the property to put in the nationally known drive-in fast food restaurant along the city’s main thoroughfare. Unexpected late winter weather and the historic flooding that ravaged much of the eastern part of the state in March caused delays, but a tremendous amount of work has been done in the last few weeks.

The signature sign and stalls are up, the point of sales system and cooking equipment have been installed and the state inspection is complete. The finish line is near.

“I’m pretty excited. Serving burgers, tots and shakes is a lot more fun than contract work,” Nauertc said, with a laugh, on Tuesday afternoon as workers continued construction outside of the building. “I’m ready to be open.”

The local Sonic will have 60 local employees in total filling front of house, cooking, crew leaders and management positions. Leading the way is General Manager Jonathan Boltin, who recently moved to town and brings with him years of experience working for Nauertc and The Esch Group in various states.

“I’m really excited. The community is awesome,” he said. “Everyone I met has been amazing. I’ve been to different towns where the people are not so nice. But I haven’t met a single person here who has been rude. Everyone has been super nice.”

Nauertc has had seven of his Columbus employees travel to one of his locations in Lincoln for training, while the others will get trained by the numerous out-of-state employees who are coming in to mentor them before the restaurant launches.

“I haven’t had a sour apple yet,” Nauertc said, adding his appreciation to all of his local employees for their efforts thus far.

Several Sonic employees were organizing and cleaning the kitchen area on Tuesday, preparing for the grand opening. Crystal Cole will serve as an assistant manager at the local location after working at another fast food establishment in town for quite some time.

“I’m excited and I can’t wait. It will be a new experience,” Cole said of the Columbus location, which will be open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. “Just come eat our good food and have great service from us.”

Boltin stressed the good food and great service will be points of pride for the Columbus Sonic, noting he believes they go hand in hand.

Modeled as an American drive-in fast-food restaurant, Sonic boasts hamburgers, French fries, corn dogs, chili dogs, onion rings, various breakfast items and desserts, as well as soft drinks, slushies and milkshakes, among other things. Customers have the ability to drive into a covered stall, order through an intercom speaker system and have food delivered by a carhop.

Columbus’ new Sonic won’t be the largest of its kind – it will boast 10 stalls and a patio with six tables for people to eat at and a drive-through lane. Limiting it to 10 stalls is to accommodate room for the drive-through and customers getting in and out of the property.

Sonic’s previous run in Columbus was more than two decades ago along West 23rd Street. Now home of 23rd Street Auto Sales, the building still resembles Sonic in some ways.

This time will be a lot different in that Sonic will be run by a different owner and be in prime real estate on the east side of 33rd Avenue. Actually, Sonic will be right in the mix of a stretch of road that features a variety of quick dining options, including Arby’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Doozy’s and Hy-Vee.

Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President Jeanne Schieffer said she’s happy to see another business open up.

“It is very exciting to know Columbus will have a Sonic restaurant. The Chamber is thrilled whenever a new business comes to town and becomes part of the Columbus experience we offer visitors and residents,” she said.

Although a specific open date still hasn’t been set, Nauertc stressed again that the grand opening will occur within the next two weeks. He had just spoken with the local chamber about it on Tuesday.

“Two weeks is very realistic,” he said. “But next week is possible.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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