Originally created 09/27/00

Four new drive-ins planned



Walking through a muddy lot off Washington Road, businessman Rick McMurtrey said Tuesday he plans to open four Sonic Drive-In restaurant franchises in the Augusta area within the next 18 months.

Where he stood is where his next Sonic is scheduled to open, in December. The restaurant would have opened next month if not for rain delays, Mr. McMurtrey said.

"This is a great location," he said of the parcel in front of the Publix shopping center in the 2800 block of Washington Road, next to the former Rio Bravo Mexican Cantina.

His three other franchises will open in Martintown Plaza in North Augusta in January or February, near the intersection of Wheeler Road and Interstate 20 in west Augusta in July, and near the corner of Evans to Locks and Fury's Ferry roads in December 2001.

Mr. McMurtrey and his partners already operate 11 Sonics in Georgia and South Carolina: two in Richmond County, two in Aiken, and one each in Martinez, Evans, Thomson, Waynesboro and Swainsboro in Georgia, and in North Augusta and Barnwell in South Carolina.

The new Washington Road location, which he selected for its proximity to both commercial and residential areas, will cost about $850,000 to develop.

Sonic Corp., an Oklahoma City-based company, has more than 2,000 of the 1950s-style drive-in hamburger restaurants throughout the country. Most are operated by franchisees.

The drive-ins offer made-to-order hamburgers, extra-long hot dogs, frozen drinks and desserts. Food is served by a carhop, who sometimes wears roller skates.

Mr. McMurtrey, an Oklahoma native, opened his first store in 1993, in Martinez. His corporation, Southeastern Drive-Ins Inc., is projected to post about $9 million in sales this year. The company is growing at a rate of 10 percent to 15 percent a year, Mr. McMurtrey said.

Reach Frank Witsil at 823-3352.