Sonny Ho came to Philadelphia in the 1980’s as a teenager where his family purchased their first house in the United States on the 3700 block of L Street in Juniata.
He needed to get a job to help his family, and as fate would have it, the man who sold his house to Sonny’s family was a baker at the Dunkin’ Donuts at Erie & Torresdale Avenues.
“He helped me get a job,” said Sonny. Now, 30+ years after taking his first job that included cleaning the tables, the bathroom, the kitchen and the parking lot at Dunkin’ Donuts, Sonny hosted the Grand Opening of the “Next Gen” Dunkin’ that he and his partners own at the same location of his first job. A celebration was held on Saturday, July 24th with specials, give-aways and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In all, Sonny’s company, Northeast Donut Shops Management Corporation, owns 46 Dunkin’ locations.
The location at 1820 Torresdale Avenue closed after a fire, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the entire economic atmosphere changed. While the immediate few-block area has seen a number of business closures in the last couple of years, including Walgreens, KFC/Taco Bell, 7-Eleven, and CVS, Sonny knew that he had to rebuild the Dunkin’ at Erie-Torresdale. “This place has a special place in my heart,” he said. “We had to do it.”
Before the fire closed down the location, Sonny said that they were serving so many people from the community who would come in, day in and day out. “We had a group of older gentlemen who would come in every day, even though they moved to other parts of the city. They’re still coming back.”
His commitment to serving the neighborhood includes the jobs that his restaurants provide to the community. Students from Little Flower High School and Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School have found the Dunkin’ to be a perfect fit for their after-school jobs throughout the years. His 46 restaurants currently employ over 900 team members.
Sonny Ho’s generosity extends throughout the City that he calls home. During the pandemic in 2020, his company donated $100,000 to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia’s Meaningful Meals Program. It provides food-insecure families with fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and other nutritious food. He has donated another $100,000 to the program in 2021 to continue the good work.
Sonny’s rise in the company was meteoric. Starting as a porter at Dunkin’ in high school, he was soon managing four restaurants while majoring in Business Management at Temple University. His job at Dunkin’ was helpful in many ways. “I learned everything … how to blend into society in America as a new immigrant, and I learned how to do business in the American way. Thirty-five years later, I’m very fortunate … I’m really grateful for the many people that helped me along the way.”
Those who know Sonny will attest to his great reputation, and are extremely happy for his success. Shirley Kalopitas, Sonny’s first boss at Dunkin in the 1980s, attended the special day to celebrate with Sonny. She told the Juniata News that Sonny had a very good work ethic from the start in the 1980s. She continued with words to describe Sonny … “Strong worker, honest, caring, strong-willed, family-oriented, down-to-earth … everything you would want in an employee.”
Jennifer Brennan, who lived on M Street in Juniata, was a co-worker of Sonny’s when she started working at Dunkin’ in 1989. She came to help him celebrate the grand opening on July 24th, describing the utmost respect that she has for him. “Sonny was a porter who quickly rose through the ranks,” she said. “If you met him, you knew he was going to. He always was a standout with unparalleled work ethic. He’s an amazing person who remains humble to this day.” Jennifer said that they keep in touch, adding that “we maintain our roots and our wings.” Sonny’s success is no surprise to her. “I would expect nothing less from him. His values are such that he’s determined to overcome any level of adversity, no matter what it is, whether it be as a new immigrant learning the language, learning the culture, learning the business world.”
The new “Next Gen” Dunkin’ design will provide guests with an optimum experience. Sonny and Alice Ho stressed their commitment to the neighborhood and to the city. “I want to say thank you. We want to continue to grow in this neighborhood and in this city — WONDERFUL city.”
One can’t help but wonder what success a boy or girl living in Juniata today, working hard at their after-school job, will have in the future. Sonny Ho can serve as their inspiration to strive for success and make great friends along the way to the top.