When Nolan Aspell was growing up in Hainesport, his first after-school job was working at the Country House Restaurant in Pemberton, owned by his family for 16 years before selling in 1996.
Simultaneously, the Aspell family owned PMG Food Services—a company providing lunches to Burlington County schools, including Cinnaminson—for over 20 years.
Throughout college, Aspell spent summers working in other restaurants before returning to the family business after receiving a psychology degree from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“All we’ve ever done is wait on people,” Aspell, 31, says. “We love the food-service industry.”
Last week, Aspell and his family broke ground in front of the now-shuttered Vanity Fair Outlet store in the shopping center on Route 130 and Riverton Road to begin construction on a Sonic Drive-In slated to open mid-December.
The new Sonic will sit on an acre-sized padsite in a mall that has had trouble keeping businesses anchored. , a mattress store and a dollar store have also closed in the last couple of years.
Long-time tenants Brothers Pizza and Elegant Lady still remain.
But, last March, opened to mostly favorable reviews producing high-volume traffic among the mostly closed emporiums.
Aspell believes that Cinnaminson will be receptive to the carhop-style service which Sonic brings to neighborhoods.
From the days when he and his sister attended Holy Cross High School in Delran, Aspell is quite familiar with the Cinnaminson area and has gotten to know his future customer base.
“There isn’t another Sonic nearby,” Aspell says, who owns another Sonic in Hainesport. “The restaurant will be in a prime location, and we think it will be popular with the locals.”
There is a Sonic Drive-In on the Black Horse Pike in Audubon, not owned by the Aspell family.
Sonic—which operates more than 3,400 sites nationally—specializes in made-to-order fast food brought to customers by a roller-skating staff, all in the comfort of your vehicle.
Favorite menu items include a breakfast burrito, Sonic burgers and footlong, quarter-pound Coney hot dogs. The company boasts that it is the ultimate drink stop—with 398,929 fountain drink and slush combinations to choose from.
Started in Shawnee, OK, as a hamburger and root beer stand in 1953, franchise fees are $45,000 with initial investments beginning at $710,000, according to the Sonic website.
The Cinnaminson Sonic will feature 16 drive-in stalls, a patio ordering station and a drive-thru window. The restaurant will likely hire 80 employees—with the skating staff undergoing complete training prior to rolling orders to the kitchen.
Cinnaminson Zoning Officer John Marshall says the Aspell family experienced stumbling blocks throughout the project, but they persevered through problems associated with the shopping center and their own personal loss.
Acme Markets and Kimco Realty each own respective parcels of the shopping center.
“Because the two landlords [Acme and Kimco] were in disagreement with reciprocal rights,” Marshall says, “the Aspell family was delayed in their groundbreaking. But they stuck with us.”
And in September, shortly after the Sonic national convention, Ron Aspell, the patriarch of the family died.
Aspell says he is looking forward to working on community projects aimed at donating money to the community and schools as part of the mission of the parent company.
“We have had some struggles,” Aspell says. “But we are anxious to hire locals and get our restaurant open.”
Editor's note: On Monday night, township committee members announced a new tenant has signed a letter of agreement to occupy the space where Vanity Fair closed. The announcement revealing the tenant should be made this week, according to Anthony Minniti, director of economic development. Stay with Patch for up-to-the-minute updates.