WASILLA — As the summer speeds by and nears it’s close, the first business in The Shoppes at Sun Mountain is preparing to open its doors.
Increased signage and busy contractors building the first Sonic Drive-In franchise in Alaska history have created an anxious hunger in the stomachs of Sonic enthusiasts in the Mat-Su Valley and beyond. The grand opening is just around the corner at the end of August. When Sonic finally opens its doors, it will stay open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., and owner Larry Clark might finally get some sleep.
“There’s a lot of little things that I guess people on the outside don’t see what it takes to do this and it’s a lot of work, but it’ll be worth it in the end I think because we’re bringing something very unique to Alaska,” Clark said.
Clark has been busy, reviewing over 400 job applications with intention to hire around 200 employees. Clark has been securing straws, napkins, and making sure that Sonic will have enough toys for the kids menus when they open in late August. Clark was beaming when speaking about the response he’s received from the Sonic corporate offices. Clark said that he and developer of Sun Mountain, Cameron Johnson, have received special treatment as the first franchise in the state. Sonic corporate employees will aid in training the new hires once Clark begins selecting his new employees over the next few weeks.
Clark grew up loving Sonic food, and was particularly happy that his Sonic Drive-In at The Shoppes at Sun Mountain will be featuring the full Sonic menu in all it’s delicious glory. Clark has been amazed at the number of applications he’s received for the skating carhops, a signature Sonic feature.
“A lot of people skate in Alaska. I did not know that but that’s great for us,” Clark said.
Johnson is a 1996 graduate of Wasilla High School and returned home to build a new center of commerce in his hometown. Johnson’s plans for The Shoppes extend another five years into the future, hoping to add more dining options, retail and office space, condominiums and 78 units of senior housing along the back edge of the 32-acre property once the shopping center is complete. Johnson already has plans for a new MTA store, Tacos Cancun and Planet Fitness, which is already being built. The MTA store will serve the entire Sun Mountain property with high speed internet, and Johnson says that Planet Fitness will be their premier location in the state.
“These are the type of deals as a developer you dream of,” said Johnson in 2018.
Not only is the buzz around the new restaurant exciting locals, but Alaskans far and wide. A family vacationing in the Valley over Independence Day weekend heard an ad on the radio and drove by the active construction site hoping to chow down.
“Someone mentioned Sonic was open so hey drove all the way out here. We told that family come back, give us your number, come back and it’s all on us,” said Johnson.
Johnson invited the family to grand opening so he could make good on the radio ad. Clark takes particular pride in the new Sonic location. While some Alaskans may have tried fast food establishments out of state and had a bad experience, Clark says that he wants to work to change their opinion and grow to love Sonic food as much as he does.
“I didn’t think we would have this type of excitement,” said Johnson.
Johnson’s brothers at H5 construction have been working on the building along with Big Dipper Construction and Vannoy Electric. Not only are the current employees working at the Sonic location making promises to deliver Sonic, but the construction crew is ahead of schedule. Johnson reached out to the city of Wasilla with a concern over signage and was more than pleased with the result.
“The city of Wasilla has been phenomenal. They’re probably one of the most user-friendly cities I’ve ever worked with,” said Johnson. “They’ve been providing drone shots throughout this process and they’ve been very receptive to changes that we needed to make.”
Johnson hopes to have the driveway paved by the middle of August and Clark hopes that his skating carhops will be serving Sonic to satisfied customers in late August.
“I think it’s a great addition to our city,” said Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle.
Sitting high above the gravel of the future site of The Shoppes at Sun Mountain is a bald eagle that had built its nest. Biologists have been monitoring the activity of the eagle that does not appear to have been disturbed by the major construction happening hundreds of yards away, and the project was required to leave a buffer zone around the nest. Johnson said that the eagle is usually perched on it’s favorite high branch watching over the crews that are building the future of fast food in the Valley.