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SONIC Franchisees See Runway for Growth with Rusty Taco

By Raj Prashad

“This could be SONIC all over again.”

Keith Fontana and Mike and Sheila Abusaab can’t help but draw the parallels between SONIC Drive-In and the emerging fresh taco and flavorful margarita concept, Rusty Taco. They’ve been in the SONIC business for a combined total of over 60 years, with Fontana rising from a restaurant team member to franchisee of 13 drive-ins in West Texas. After signing a five-restaurant agreement with Rusty Taco, Fontana recognizes the foundation for a similar runway for growth between the two brands.

“At Rusty Taco, the similarities are right where SONIC was in the early days,” Fontana said. “You have a really great product served throughout different dayparts, great franchisees and operators. I think the sky is the limit.”

Fontana has been interested in Rusty Taco for nearly six years now. Based in Texas, he had quite the opportunities for expansion into taco concepts. But between the authentic, street-style inspired menu of Rusty Taco and the power of its parent company, Inspire Brands, there was no question this was the concept for Fontana.

“You can find tacos everywhere in Texas, but when you start tasting and comparing the flavors and recipes, Rusty Taco really stands out,” Fontana said. “Then when you talk about being backed by Inspire, everything we’ve experienced during our time as SONIC franchisees has been encouraging. With that leadership, what we’ve seen in this short period of time just gave us even more confidence that Rusty is the right brand for us.”

Ahead of opening their first Rusty Taco, Fontana and partners have spent the last month meeting with other operators to learn from their experiences across Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana, Texas and Arizona. What began as taking lessons from the different design and layout options available has evolved into friendships with other great franchisees.

“These are great marketers and operators who have insight into how this business has grown,” Fontana said. “They’ve all been very forthcoming and willing to give all the knowledge we need. They want the brand to be successful. It’s hard not to compare Rusty Taco to where SONIC was 50 years ago, and in a lot of ways, still is to this day. We have a group of passionate franchisees who care about their team members and growing this organization. And I can’t wait to open the doors to our first Rusty Taco to keep this trend going.”

Fontana, the Abusaabs and partners are expected to open their first Rusty Taco in West Texas in 2021.

To learn more about franchising opportunities at Rusty Taco, go to