Sonny's BBQ and restaurant owner part ways -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Sonny's BBQ and restaurant owner part ways

Bill Davis owned the Tifton Sonny's franchise for 22 years Bill Davis owned the Tifton Sonny's franchise for 22 years

By  Stephanie Springer  - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – A Tifton restaurant owner has parted ways with his Sonny's BBQ franchise. Sonny's has a corporate policy that requires all employees to wear Sonny's T-shirts, and when the owner of the Tifton restaurant allowed employees to dress otherwise, corporate stepped in.

When you drive by the Sonny's in Tifton, you'll notice some changes. "The sign out front is blacked out, and we've taken down anything related to Sonny's," said Michelle Hanson, manager.

But its not closed it's just in transition. Bill Davis owned this Sonny's franchise for 22 years, but lately there have been some changes.

"They wanted us to serve not only beer and wine but also Whisky," said Bill Davis. As a former EMT, Davis was did not want to bring alcohol into a family atmosphere.

"I saw what alcohol can do to young people," said Davis.

On top of that, Davis was notified of corporate dress code violations. "They saw we had a T-shirt that said 'I pledge I pray,'" said Davis.

"When the war started Mister Davis decided he wanted to support America and support our troops so he had these shirts made and we've been wearing them ever since," said waitress Michelle Hanson.

"They also saw a trinket above the cash register about 7 inches tall and 11 inches wide, and it spelled out the word 'Jesus,'" said Davis.

The letter states "The Sonny's brand must remain non-partisan no political or religious signage is allowed on the property."

"They are a good company with good people we just had two concerns we couldn't cross with," said Davis.

They had until yesterday to make the changes so they re-did the menu, got new uniforms and even came up with a new name.

And most customers are supportive. "The quality of the food is better you get more of it," said Steven Register.

And Davis says they will continue wearing their T-shirts every Sunday because he says he'd rather have God on his side any day.

Sonny's did issue a statement and said they did not end the franchise agreement due religious beliefs. They say they respect the beliefs of guests as well as franchisees however there were several infractions leading up to the closure which was already scheduled for December 30th.

On December 2, 2009, Sonny's sent this press release laying out its side of the issue:


 December 2, 2009, Maitland, FL – Sonny's Franchise Company, the parent company of Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q (Sonny's) announces the closure of its Tifton, GA location on November 30, 2009.  In light of the many rumors, speculation and false information circulating, Sonny's believes it to be in the best interest of the franchisees, guests and other stakeholders to present the information that hasn't been provided.

The Tifton location was closed after the license agreement was not renewed by the franchisee in December 2007, which would have initially required the location to close in March 2008.  The franchisee signed an extension license agreement in order to avoid a "fire sale."  In the new agreement, the franchisee agreed to adhere to all Sonny's system standards.  After many extensions and additional opportunities were granted to the franchisee, the store was scheduled to close December 31, 2009.  Since then, many infractions to the signed contract occurred, which resulted in the location being closed early.  The new agreed closing date was November 30, 2009.

This location did not close because the servers were wearing inappropriate uniforms or because religious symbols were found in the restaurant.  "At Sonny's, we respect the rights and liberties of not only our guests but our franchisees as business owners, to practice any religion they choose.  As a chain, Sonny's has system standards in place to ensure that as a company, we are non-partisan, both politically and religiously inside the restaurant and on restaurant property," said Bob Yarmuth, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sonny's Franchise Company.  Conscious of religious celebrations, Sonny's offers a "Flex" holiday to franchisees that allows them to close their locations on holidays, such as Easter, in addition to Christmas and Thanksgiving.

With reputation as evidence, Sonny's is a strong community partner and a responsible corporate citizen.  The company has donated millions of dollars to organizations across the Southeast, including faith-based organizations.  Sonny's will continue to operate this way for the entire chain and for the communities in which we live and work.  We appreciate the support of all our loyal Sonny's guests.


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