Sonic 'success story': New Milford native set to open fast-food restaurant

NEW MILFORD — Sonic, a long-awaited fast-food restaurant, will open for business Saturday at 10 a.m. in town.

The indoor dining area will not be open immediately, due to ongoing construction for another business soon to open at the site. In the meantime, the drive-thru will be open.

“We hope to build a business that will create jobs in New Milford and make it fun, and have a family environment,” Steven Berney, managing partner of the local franchise, said of the opening.

Of course, sharing some of the restaurant’s popular offerings is important, too, he said.

“It’s a fun kind of burger franchise with burgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs,” Berney said.

Signature drinks, such as cherry and strawberry limeades, slushes, milkshakes, ice cream and Blasts — ice cream mixed with candy and cookie pieces — round out the menu.

The success of a restaurant is built upon more than food. Berney said having a healthy work environment for employees and treating customers well are paramount.

“We’re not just in the food business,” Berney said. “We’re in the people business.”

Berney’s business partner is Mir Ahmed of New Milford, who owns the former bank building in which Sonic is located and recently opened the Sunoco gas station, and soon-to-open 7-Eleven, both also at the site.

Berney’s son, Nik, 23, will be the face of the restaurant, serving in the role of general manager.

“Part of the reason I want to get involved in the business is I have worked in food services my whole life,” said Nik, who attended Sarah Noble Intermediate School and Schaghticoke Middle School in town.

Nik graduated from Nonnewaug High School, a vo-ag school in Woodbury, before living in Colorado, where he worked at a restaurant owned by the parent company of Sonic. Ironically, a Sonic was next door to the business and he and his friends would always go there to get the $1 corn dogs, he said.

Now that he will manage a Sonic, he hopes to bring some of his favorite Sonic foods and drinks, as well as job opportunities, to the community.

“I really think, for me, it’s really about making sure the kids coming out of high school feel comfortable working somewhere,” Nik said, emphasizing the type of work environment he wants to provide for employees, especially those in high school.

“The way you’re treated at work can make all the difference,” the younger Berney said. “Someone who puts a good work ethic in you at a young age really helps.”

“We want to groom high school kids who have their first or second job with us and give them a good experience,” said Nik, who graduated with a degree in finance from Western Connecticut State University.

Approximately 35 people were hired for the new establishment.

Opening a business in the midst of a pandemic is not without its challenges.

Steve said the franchise would have opened this spring if not for the pandemic. Coordinating vendors, equipment installation and restrictions for travelers have delayed the opening.

“It’s great to see local investment into our community, and economic development from a company the size of Sonic is a great addition,” said state Rep. Bill Buckbee, R-67th. “I can’t wait to get a shake.”

Nik said he looks forward to serving the community.

“We want people to be able to come here and get hot food and get cold ice cream for dessert,” he said.

New Milford Economic Development Director Karen Pollard describes the new Sonic as a “success story” with its franchise owner, the elder Berney, “using his knowledge and experience in sales, customer service and retail operations to start his own company and invest right here in New Milford.”

“He’s off to a great start in hiring his son as the manager,” Pollard said. “He’s doing a great job hiring and training all of the new staff. This Sonic will have the best customer service.”

Sonic, located at 291 Danbury Road, will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in September, then will be Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to midnight. For more information, call the restaurant at 860-717-0430.