UPTOWN — Without warning, Chicago's first Sonic Drive-In opened in Uptown Thursday morning.
Just an hour after making a surprise announcement on its Facebook page, the place was bustling with Sonic newbies as well as old pros, like wife and husband Serena and Nick Watts, Edgewater residents who grew up in Arizona.
"Sonic is just everywhere over there, so when we saw it open it was exciting, something nice from home, and it's really good," said Nick Watts, 26, who was feasting on a double bacon cheeseburger.
His wife was munching on popcorn chicken as they sat in the dining room.
"Yup, at 10 o'clock in the morning," she joked before bursting into laughter.
Serena Watts, 27, said she was grateful for a fast-food option other than McDonald's, which is next to Sonic. Her husband agreed.
"I would prefer this over that. Everyone's used to McDonald's, so it will be a change, but at the same time people like what they're used to," he said. "But I'm excited."
Though Sonic opened the 1022 W. Wilson Ave. location Thursday, its official grand opening will still be Tuesday, when the first 200 customers will have their names entered into a drawing for the chance to be one of 20 people awarded free weekly combo meals for a year.
Once a week can't hurt, right?
Adeshina Emmanuel and Jon Hansen talk Sonic on DNAinfo Radio:
Tuesday's grand opening starts at 9:30 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting attended by local officials. The restaurant opens to the public at 11 a.m., the Oklahoma-based chain said.
The restaurant includes a covered patio, double drive-thru, stalls for carside service via Sonic's famous carhops, and an indoor dining room featuring free Wi-Fi and a fireplace.
Even if the first 200 customers don't win free combo meals, they'll get a free Sonic T-shirt at the grand opening, where Sonic will also have other swag, free samples and balloons for kids.
Sonic has been around more than 60 years and has 3,500 drive-in locations, about 90 percent of which are owned and operated by local franchisees. The restaurant is known for quarter-pound Coney dogs, tater tots, cherry limeades and service from skating carhops. Most Sonics are in rural and suburban locations across the country.
Sonic said over the next decade it plans to open 1,000 locations, including in Chicago.
Uptown Sonic franchisee Seth Wolken, of BOOM Enterprises, said "The community has been anxiously waiting for our drive-in to open, so we are expecting a tremendous turnout for the grand opening.”
Sonic's opening has been a long time coming, since December 2012, when Sonic confirmed it was setting up shop in Uptown. The company faced red tape that delayed plans for a summer 2013 opening.
Then, cold weather delayed construction and thwarted plans to open this winter.
While there's been much rejoicing in Uptown about the drive-in, some residents said they aren't as thrilled with the addition of another fast food restaurant. Sonic sits just west of a McDonald's restaurant.
There also have been concerns about safety on that stretch of Wilson Avenue. Sonic said it plans to have security on the premises at all times.