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Sonic Drive-In latest big-name chain headed for Hookele

Fast food eatery holds groundbreaking, could open by end of year

A sign on dust fencing promises Maui’s Sonic Drive-In will be coming “soon, very soon” in this photo taken Tuesday afternoon along Hookele Street. The groundbreaking for what would be the first Sonic location in Hawaii was held on Sunday. The restaurant’s managing partner said it could potentially open in the fourth quarter of this year. Known for its carhops and an array of drinks such as cherry limeade, Sonic has more than 3,500 restaurants in 46 states. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — The state’s first Sonic Drive-In could open in the “fourth quarter” of this year along Hookele Street in Kahului, an area that is seeing an assortment of big-name food chains pop up this year.

“It is special for us to go into Maui first,” said Edwin Prather, managing partner of North Shore Provisions LLC and PBY Development Hawaii LLC, doing business as Sonic Drive-In Hawaii.

Prather cautioned that with construction schedules, weather and other uncertainties, “you don’t really know” what could happen with the restaurant’s timeline.

But he expressed excitement about coming to the Valley Isle, noting he and his partners, who include Hawaii residents, are also working on opening a Sonic on Oahu.

On Sunday, Prather and others held a small blessing at the site fronting Safeway in Kahului, setting off reactions on social media as some frowned on the new entry, wanting support for locally owned business, while others cheered for their favorite items on the menu.

Kimokeo Kapahulehua of the Kimokeo Foundation conducts a blessing on Sunday for what would be the first Sonic Drive-In in Hawaii at the Hookele Shopping Center in Kahului. Sonic Drive-In Hawai‘i photo

Sonic was founded in 1953 in Oklahoma and has more than 3,500 restaurants in 46 states, according to its website. It is the largest drive-in restaurant brand in the U.S. and is known for its carhops who bring food to customers in their vehicles. The restaurant offers an array of drinks from shakes to cherry limeade as well as foods that include the usual burgers and chicken options in addition to hot dogs, tater tots, soft pretzel twists and mozzarella sticks. It also has breakfast items such as breakfast burritos and French toast sticks.

Sonic will be joining Raising Cane’s, a restaurant chain known for its chicken fingers that’s coming up near Lowe’s, along with Chick-fil-A, which is known for its chicken sandwiches and has a location under construction at the Puunene Shopping Center near Target.

Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A officials said opening for the estimated $3 million restaurant, with a full dining room, double drive-thru and outdoor dining patio, is scheduled for mid-2022, slightly delayed from its originally planned springtime opening. This will be Hawaii’s first Chick-fil-A location.

Raising Cane’s was scheduled to open in a $1.98 million building along Hookele Street early this year and is now eyeing a late June opening, Ali Urbick, Panda Restaurant Group spokesperson, said Tuesday. Panda Restaurant Group, owner of Panda Express, is launching and managing Raising Cane’s. The company will have more information on hiring efforts soon, Urbick added.

A “Raising Cane’s” sign could be seen from the roadway on Tuesday.

A Sonic Drive-In menu board is seen at a location in Las Vegas. The eatery will soon open its first location in Hawaii on Maui. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

Maui’s Raising Cane’s will join seven locations already open on Oahu, according to the company’s website.

Along with the new restaurants, familiar names to Maui eaters are also looking to join the restaurant mix along Hookele Street.

This includes Taco Bell, which is targeted to open in April in the Hookele Shopping Center, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. It will be the second Taco Bell location in Kahului. The original is along Kamehameha Avenue.

Teddy’s Bigger Burger was also issued a building permit last month for a location at the Puunene Shopping Center, according to county records. Teddy’s has a location at the Lahaina Gateway as well as restaurants on Oahu.

Prather said parts of Sonic’s future building are already being constructed outside of San Diego. They will be shipped and put together quickly on the Kahului site.

As for staffing, Prather said they are excited to hire whoever they can. He acknowledged the need for workers across the island, pointing out the numerous ads for job fairs he heard while on Maui over the weekend.

Prather said Sonic is an ideal place for those seeking their first jobs. And as for the carhops, roller skating is not required, but if someone likes to skate, “we’re the place for you.”

The Sonic in Kahului will have the drive-in option, although on a smaller scale than those on the Mainland. Prather acknowledged the Maui Sonic may be one of the smaller sites of those across the U.S.

He also noted how Sonic is involved in the community and has already worked with the Kimokeo Foundation, which helped conduct the blessing. The nonprofit perpetuates the Hawaiian culture and Maui’s environment through education programs, according to its website.

Prather said Sonic also has a “Limeades for Learning” program, which supports public school teachers and students through needed supplies and learning resources, according to its website.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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