Millennial entrepreneur turns dreams of multi-unit ownership into reality with iconic drive-in franchise
Luke Flatin started out as many American teenagers do, getting his first job with SONIC at the age of 16. Nearly 15 years later, at the age of 35, he owns four SONIC drive-in franchise locations in two states, and is not stopping there. Flatin is setting his sights high by planning a future in which he becomes one of the largest SONIC franchise owners in the Midwest.
“I was actually fired when I was 16,” Flatin says, laughing. “It was my first job, and I was pretty immature. I gave it another shot when I turned 17 at a different location in Kansas, and by the time I was 20 years old, I had moved up to assistant manager. I got the opportunity to open a new SONIC for a group of investors in Johnson, Arkansas, and when I saw how the lifestyle of the owners firsthand, I knew that’s what I needed to do for myself. They seemed to be enjoying life to its fullest, having fun and really helping people by creating opportunities for their employees, and I’m lucky they believed in me.”
One of the SONIC franchise owners, Phil Lauderdale, played a tremendously important role as a mentor to Flatin. Lauderdale encouraged Flatin to follow his example and become a SONIC franchise owner, not only because it was a path toward prosperity and financial independence, but because Flatin would be able to help other people realize their full potential as well.
“Now that I get to be a mentor and can create opportunities for my employees, it’s tremendously rewarding. I get to watch people elevate their lives, build life-long relationships and really have fun – there’s nothing better than that,” Flatin says.
In order to raise the capital needed to become a franchise owner, Flatin reached out to his uncle to invest in his dream. With all of his training, passion for the brand, and exceptional support from SONIC, it didn’t take long for Flatin to pay his uncle back in full.
“Aside from meeting my wife and the birth of my children, paying back my uncle was one of the best moments of my entire life,” he says. “It felt like I had arrived. My uncle is an extremely intelligent person, truly one of a kind. I’ll be forever grateful for his support.”
After opening one restaurant in Kansas and three more in Nebraska, Flatin is working on opening two more SONIC locations in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, Iowa. He credits SONIC’s incredible brand recognition, innovative menu and the brand’s wildly passionate customer base as the reasons why he is able to enter new markets with ease.
“It’s truly hard to find a person who doesn’t love SONIC,” Flatin says. “When we announce that we’re expanding into new markets, people cannot wait. I get several messages a day from people who say, ‘When are you going to be open?’ People really love our menu, everything from breakfast, to our shakes, to our coneys, and this is great for me as an owner. A busy store is way more fun to own.”
As Flatin looks toward his future success, his ambitious plans to continue growing are rooted in his belief that the future of SONIC is brighter than ever. He credits the brand not only with his success, but also his continued ability to elevate the people around him.
“I want to get into the triple digits with the number of stores,” he says. “The future of SONIC is bright. There’s no question about that. They’ve just started expanding into the Northeast, and there’s so much room to grow. As an owner, the money is great, but what truly makes me feel successful is when I can help the people around me become successful. I have a manager who started with me when he was 16. He’s 22 now, and he tells me he’s doing better than all of his friends who have college degrees. When I hear that, I know that I’m doing something right. It makes me want to work harder and grow this business as big as I can. The sky’s the limit with SONIC.”