Sonic may come to Capital Region, but it won't be replacing Jumpin' Jack's
CAPITAL REGION Every spring there are rumors of Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In in Scotia being sold.
This year was no exception, as owner Mark Lansing was bombarded with questions from customers, employees, and even the village mayor asking if drive-in restaurant chain Sonic had bought the 58-year-old business.
“Absolutely not,” Lansing said. “People just like to talk.”
The closest thing to an offer Lansing has ever received was someone wanting to open a satellite location of Jumpin’ Jack’s five years ago, he said.
The business has 30 employees and is run by Lansing and his two sons. Lansing bought Jumpin’ Jack’s in 1976 from Jack Brennan, who built the landmark eatery in 1952.
“It’s not for sale. Never will be. I’m having too much fun,” Lansing said. “It’s a family business. I would turn it into a public park before I sold it.”
But the questions about Sonic shed light on two Capital Region facts: First, there is a major organized online movement of devoted Sonic fans for the 518 area code and second, Sonic confirms there is an effort to locate the chain here.
Two weeks ago, Brunswick resident Zak Ryan saw one of Sonic’s commercials on television. That night, he created a Facebook fan page called “Petition to get a Sonics built in the (518) Area.” When he woke up the next day, 1,000 people had signed up. Today, there are more than 11,000 fans.
“I just did it because I was hungry,” Ryan admitted. “I didn’t think it would get that far in a short amount of time.”
The fan page discusses possible places to locate a Sonic and possible investors to bring a franchise to the area, and cites the area’s locally owned burger-centric businesses. Members also lament that the nearest Sonic is 60 miles away in Kingston.
Sonic lovers tout the restaurant’s throwback to carhop waitresses in addition to its traditional fast food menu accented with the option of potato tots, slushes, limeades, sundaes and other desserts.
“If we brought one here, I think it would make a lot of people happy. A lot of us are forced to see the commercials,” Ryan said.
Drew Ritger, senior vice president of business planning and purchasing at the Oklahoma City-based chain, has a message for the Capital Region: “Be patient, enjoy the Sonics near you just to the south and eventually you will have a Sonic near you. We just can’t tell you when that’s going to happen,” he said.
Ritger said Sonic receives a lot of inquiries from upstate New York about the potential for new franchises. He hopes as the economy improves, someone will step up and invest.
“We’re expanding market to market and it is our expectation and plan that at some point there will be Sonic in your area. At this point we don’t have a franchisee lined up,” Ritger said. “Over time, it’s our intention to develop all of the state of New York. Given the success that the brand has had in the lower Hudson Valley, New Jersey and in Massachusetts, it’s only just a matter of time.”
Sonic entered the New York market two years ago and has four locations: Kingston, Binghamton, Wappingers Falls and New Windsor. A year earlier, the company entered the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
High unemployment and cash-strapped consumers with less disposable income than previous years has left Sonic and much of the quick-service food industry with lower sales than in previous years.
The challenging economic environment recently was also coupled with an unusual winter.
“It was an extraordinarily cold and wet winter pretty much everywhere east of the Rockies,” Ritger said.
Second-quarter sales dropped 33 percent to $112.8 million from $169 million in the same period a year ago. For the second quarter, the net loss was $642,000, down from a net income of $8.7 million a year earlier.
Sonic said in March that it plans to open fewer drive-ins this year and expects to open fewer than 100 new franchises through the end of August, when its fiscal year ends.
“It’s been one of the more rapid declines in payroll since the early ’80s,” Ritger said. “The good news is we’re continuing to grow through this.”