The owners of ARCO ampm in Sonora announced on Wednesday that they plan to open a Dairy Queen next year in the long vacant lot they own next to their gas station.

Andy Singh and his wife, Navneet Bhatia, of Sonora, said they have secured the franchise rights for a Dairy Queen Grill and Chill location that will have both a drive-through and sit-down restaurant.

“I just wanted to take the chance to bring some food here to this end of town,” Singh said. “I’ve been working on it for about five years, and now my dream has come true.”

Singh estimated the total cost of the project will be about $2 million.

Other franchises the couple considered for the spot included Dunkin’ Donuts, Chicago Pizza and Deli Delicious, but Singh said they settled on Dairy Queen because it has a more varied menu that includes ice cream, shakes, hot food and Orange Julius smoothies.

“I took six months to decide which franchise I was going to pick,” Singh said.

The couple had originally proposed developing a food court that would have space for up to three fast-food businesses, including a drive-through.They got approval from the city for a 3,700-square-foot building with three kitchens last year.

Singh said they decided to secure the franchise rights and run the location themselves after determining that the current rental market for commercial space in the city wouldn’t provide a viable return on their investment.

“In downtown, there’s a lot of empty stores and they are very, very cheap,” he said. “Square footage rates are so low over here that you couldn’t make money.”

Singh said they signed a contract on Wednesday with Land and Structure in Sonora to do the design work on the project and plan to move forward with drawings.

They are hoping to start construction by the end of the year for an opening in spring 2019. Singh said they plan to begin the hiring process during construction and will need 14 employees and three full-time managers.

The couple moved from New York to Sonora in 2013 after purchasing the gas station and mini-mart, as well as the adjacent lot to the north that was once a car dealership.

Singh said he got the idea for the project when he realized there were no late-night food businesses on the north end of the City of Sonora to Columbia.

There were complaints about the project from residents with homes on Pesce Way because there will be an entrance and exit to the business that will increase traffic on the small residential street.

The city had determined that Caltrans wouldn’t allow an entrance off Highway 49 because it would be located too close to the turn off for Pesce Way.

To address the concerns about traffic, the couple got approval from the city for a second entrance and exit through the gas station that will hopefully reduce the number of vehicles that use the one off Pesce Way.

Singh gave credit to Larry Cope, executive director of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, for helping to guide him through the process with the city, connecting him with Dairy Queen and financing for the project.

“I think in five years, I’ve attended more than 600 meetings so far on this project,” Singh said. “How much time I’ve paid on this project is a separate issue from money.”

Cope issued a news release on Wednesday about the Dairy Queen announcement that stated the project is expected to bring “millions of dollars of investment and several jobs to the northern portion of the City of Sonora.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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