It's been a long time in the making, but on Thursday, Howard Countians were finally able to drive up for a burger and shake at the first-ever Sonic restaurant in the county, on Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City.
"We're very excited," David Crocetti, who owns the Ellicott City franchise with business partner Sean Martin, said before a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new restaurant. "We finally did it!"
Plans to open a Sonic in Ellicott City were first floated about two years ago, according to Crocetti, but "new development is a long process and of course you hit a few delays along the way."
After some help from Councilmember Courtney Watson, who represents the district and is a neighbor of Crocetti's, he was able to find a landlord and move forward with building the popular fast food joint.
The Ellicott City location, which opened for lunch at noon on Thursday, is one of just a handful of Sonic restaurants to have an indoor seating area, which can accommodate up to 50 people, in addition to a patio, drive-thru and 10 car stalls for drive-up service.
Crocetti said the indoor seating format would be the trend as the chain expands north along the east coast, where harsher weather necessitates other dining options.
Unlike at some Sonic locations, servers won't skate out to deliver food to waiting cars: the drive-in is close enough to the restaurant that they're not necessary, according to Crocetti.
Ellicott City's Sonic is one of just eight locations for the franchise in Maryland, according to the chain's website. The next closest spot to get a Footlong Quarter Pound Coney (hot dog) or Sonic Blast (ice cream) is in Baltimore, on Liberty Road.
This isn't Crocetti's first Sonic franchise -- he owns three others, in Randallstown, Baltimore and Edgewater. But it's the first that will be only a short drive from home.
The Ellicott City resident said he's seen a lot of enthusiasm for the restaurant so far from the community: "We have people who have literally driven over cones, parked at a menu screen that's not on, then walked inside and tried to order. People have been overwhelmingly excited."
Crocetti also tries to give back to the communities where his Sonic franchises are located: every time he opens a new one, he said, the restaurant donates money to a local organization. At the Ellicott City grand opening, he presented a check for $2,014 to Jennifer Pollitt Hill, the executive director of HopeWorks, Howard County's sexual assault and domestic violence center.
Sonic is just one in a wave of new businesses opening along the Route 40 corridor near the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. Right next door, a Goodwill thrift store opened a week ago. Down the street, beloved ice cream shop Soft Stuff reopened in August, and more new businesses, including a Glory Days Grill and Walgreens pharmacy are on their way.
Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO Lawrence Twele called the influx of new businesses "a testament to the market's confidence in this area.
"What we're seeing is a revitalization, a reinvestment -- brand-new building, great restaurant providing new jobs to the area. But it is part of a larger picture," Twele said. The new restaurant is expected to create between 75 and 80 new jobs.
Thursday, the scene at the fast food restaurant was vibrant enough: customers formed a line that wound its way around the restaurant and outside, cars filled the drive-up spots.
"We're thrilled to have Sonic in Howard County," Watson, the councilmember, said -- before trying some food at the drive-up herself.