Updated: September 23, 2023
Hawai’i’s first Sonic restaurant opened today in Kahului to crowds of people, a performance by Sonic owner and award-winning Maui musician Glenn Awong of Maoli, a debut of the chain’s Hawai’i-only teriyaki burger — and new local celebrity Frank Barbosa.
Barbosa, who’s from Maui, gained popularity in 2020 when he was first in line at Jollibee’s opening in Kahului. Since then, he’s been first in line at subsequent fast-food openings Chick-fil-A, Raising Cane’s and now Sonic.
“I’m 4-0,” Barbosa said.
For Sonic’s opening, Barbosa brought wife Joselin, who was first in line at the drive-through. The two weren’t planning on attending, but Frank Barbosa said his friends from high school days have been pressuring him for months. Plus, since Jollibee’s opening, he’s amassed fans from around Hawai’i and the Mainland who recognize the local customer.
The couple arrived around 1 p.m. Sunday and stayed overnight for the 10 a.m. opening today. They said there was no crowd until today.
“I hope I can take a little break,” Frank Barbosa said before he left the restaurant, laughing.
Hawai’i’s first Sonic Drive-In is located at 1110 Ho’okele St., Kahului, next to Safeway’s gas station and features a drive-through service, patio seating and drive-in stalls. In all, there are 11 ordering stations. Guests may drive up to nine or walk up to two to place orders. Sonic is open daily from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Edwin Prather, managing member of Sonic Drive-In Hawaiʻi, said Sonic is slated to open in Kapolei next year and at another Oʻahu location near Ala Moana after that.
For Maui’s grand opening celebration, Sonic officials held a blessing by local cultural advisor Kapono Kamaunu, ribbon cutting by Prather and performance by Awong.
Musicians Fiji and Awong are part owners, along with Prather of North Shore Provisions LLC. Awong and Fiji were instrumental in bringing Sonic to Maui first, Prather said during a speech.
“It’s important to us to be Maui first,” Prather said.
Awong, who is from Maui, also said it’s special that Sonic’s first Hawaiʻi location is in Maui.
“I just wanted to thank everyone for coming over here and supporting a local boy like myself,” he said during the grand opening celebration. “I used to roam these places all the time as a little kid and always dreamed of working with such special people like this to bring the first-ever Sonic Hawaiʻi.”
Awong told Maui Now that the Sonic location on Maui is about seven years in the works.
“It’s been a long time coming, me and Ed and my other brother, Fiji. He’s a big part of this movement,” he said. “We’re excited that it’s finally come to fruition.”
Prather said Fiji was unable to attend the opening.
Acknowledging that several big chain restaurants have opened in the area recently and some residents are concerned about smaller, local businesses, Prather said that every Sonic partner on the ownership team has a connection to Hawaiʻi.
Also, many Maui community members have been requesting a Sonic, he added.
“Rather than just the name on the front (of the business) is (asking the questions): Is the ownership community-oriented? Are they locally owned? Does it have a connection to the community?” he said. “As long as it’s making important contributions to the community, I think that’s a positive thing.”
As part of the grand opening, Sonic donated $35,000 to local area public school teachers, according to Sonic spokesperson Brent Reams. A portion of every Sonic drink in a cup will benefit local schools.
Known for carhops on roller-skates who bring food to customers in their vehicles, Sonic’s menu ranges from burgers, hot dogs and chicken tenders to sides such as pretzels, tater tots and chili cheese fries. Sonic drinks, including milkshakes, limeades and slushes, are some of the most popular items. Officials during the opening touted the Hawai’i-only teriyaki burger, a collaboration with Aloha Shoyu.
After getting the first order in and trying the food, Barbosa said the teriyaki burger is “perfect . . . not salty, not oily, awesome.”
Also, the tater tots were “crunchy, not oily… and it has a good seasoning to it.”
All Sonic locations are franchise owned. Sonic began in Oklahoma and is now in 47 US states. Almost 30% of Sonics are in Texas, where the brand is the most popular, according to Reams.
Sonic is the final fast-food restaurant of five chains that recently launched along Hoʻokele Street in Kahului.
While some Maui residents have been excited about the spots, others are mixed or even disappointed about the new chains.