Sentinel staff report–
Does Citrus Heights need another burger joint? Businessman Ben Aibuedefe thinks so, and on Wednesday night he received unanimous approval from planning commissioners to move forward with his plans to bring a new walk-up and drive-thru burger restaurant to a vacant corner on Auburn Boulevard in front of Steve Cook’s Fireside Lanes.
“We are bringing in a value burger,” Aibuedefe told The Sentinel after the June 13 planning commission meeting. “This is really a different (restaurant). I will consider this a Cadillac of a burger.”
The new eatery will be a franchise location of the Florida-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurant Inc., which has over 800 locations nationwide — the nearest location currently being over 150 miles away, near Fresno. The fast-food chain offers items like seasoned fries, big burgers, chicken wings and milkshakes, and markets itself in different parts of the country under the brand names Rally’s and Checker’s.
Plans approved at the June 13 planning commission meeting include a small, 827-square-foot retro-style modular building to be constructed off-site and brought to 7911 Auburn Blvd., with hours of operation calling for a 10 a.m. opening, with closing times as late as 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There will be no indoor seating at the restaurant, which is typical of Rally’s and Checker’s locations around the country.
See an image of what the new restaurant will look like: click here
Plans call for a drive-thru window on the south side, more trees and landscaping, an outdoor seating area with a walk-up window, and 10 parking spaces along Grand Oaks Boulevard. Two existing driveways would be removed and replaced with landscaping, allowing access from Auburn Boulevard at an existing shared driveway with the bowling alley. Another driveway is also shown allowing access from Grand Oaks Boulevard.
Several commissioners said they had heard comments from the community about there being “too many hamburger joints in Citrus Heights.” Commissioner Michael Lagomarsino acknowledged the comments could be true, but said he “always believed that if a business didn’t think they could make money, then they wouldn’t put up the building or move in there, so I see nothing wrong with that.”
“I think there is a lot of hamburger joints in town, but there’s not really a lot of them in that particular area,” said Planning Commission Chairman Russell Blair, echoing comments by his fellow commissioner. “I think the location’s great with Rusch Park right across the parking lot from it — I think it will be successful; I’m all for it.”
Other commissioners said they were glad to see the vacant corner being finally developed, after a prior auto shop and gas station at the site were demolished in the early 1990s. In comments to The Sentinel made after the meeting, Commissioner Tim Schaefer called the existing corner “really ugly” and said he’d “been looking at it for too long.”
Aibuedefe told the commission he was looking forward to improving the corner, which he said will fit with the city’s plan to move forward with roadway and sidewalk improvements as part of “Phase II” of the Auburn Boulevard Complete Streets Revitalization Project. He also said security cameras and 24-hour lighting will be implemented to address concerns related to homelessness in the area.
In a 7-0 vote, commissioners approved the project as proposed, with a minor condition added to require additional signage at the drive-thru exit to help mitigate safety concerns about pedestrians and vehicle traffic crossing in front of the exit path.
Aibuedefe said he plans to open the new burger restaurant, which will be branded under the name Rally’s, by the end of this year, or early next year at the latest. The franchisee said he also plans to open more locations in the future, possibly in other parts of the city.
The new burger drive-thru will have some nearby competition when California Quick Slice opens a block away at 7766 Auburn Blvd. Plans for the new pizza place were approved in March, which will re-format an old gas station near Auburn Boulevard and Antelope Road into a drive-thru pizza restaurant.
“The main focus isn’t to compete with pizza restaurants, it’s to compete with hamburgers and tacos,” owner Mercer Tyson told planning commissioners during a public hearing earlier this year. “So when you drive down the street, instead of getting a burger, you get a pizza and a coke.”
As previously reported on The Sentinel, Aibuedefe immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in his twenties and now lives in Roseville. The 58-year-old said he ran a gas station business for the past 12 years, but had his eye on opening a restaurant all along.
“I always wanted to go into fast food, but I wanted the right fit,” he said in a phone interview. “I just wanted to get away from the gas station business and focus on something different.”
According to a city staff report, the new Rally’s drive-thru will be the first completely new building along Auburn Boulevard since 2007 and will also be the first national chain to open within the Rusch Park District.
Also on The Sentinel: Developer has big plans for vacant corner on Auburn Blvd.