After more than 50 years, the chain is reflecting on what it's learned over the decades, and setting it's sights on future goals.

There’s no shortage of resources out there, from books, blogs to podcasts all sharing the “secret to success” or that “special sauce” to make your business grow to new heights. For us at Sonny’s BBQ, there isn’t a secret. There’s a keen understanding of barbecue: it’s hard work, determination, and good food. While that may seem too simple, especially in today’s restaurant and hospitality climate, for us it’s that simple. We respect and stay grounded in tradition, consistently perfecting our craft, and set out to do good deeds in our community. It’s these core principles that guided the opening of our first restaurant in Gainesville, Florida, 54 years ago and they’re still the core of our business today. 

After more than 50 years in business, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned over the decades and setting our sights on future goals that foster the spirit of barbecue. Our founder Sonny Tillman’s vision for the local joint was to offer delicious barbecue, in a place of welcome and comfort and to be a pillar of the community. Sonny’s BBQ was, and is, more than just good food and good company. It’s about bringing our passion and generosity to every thing we do, and recognizing that same passion and generosity in the people we serve. As the business grew with new partners and franchisees, Sonny’s vision remained constant. Together, we’ve built a brand that fosters greater connection with guests and team members through great service, quality food, and giving back to the causes and organizations that align with our giving pillars: first responders, military, disaster relief and hunger and food insecurity.   

Today, we turn to a modernized focus and approach to reflect what our communities need now. While we keep with tradition when it comes to barbecue, like always smoking our meats with a slow, low process by our expertly trained pitmasters, we’re in constant pursuit of improving our operations and enhancing our service. In 2020, we faced several operational challenges but with the perseverance of our team we improved our takeaway options to bolster sales. We’ve continued to exceed guest expectations for service through delivery, carryout, third-party solutions and off-premises dining.

Our focus on the customer and community always drives our decisions. One instance of this is our recent investment in our customer experience by implementing a new CRM system to personalize each interaction with our customers from email to in-restaurant. We’ve gone to great lengths to work with our franchisees on simplifying our menus in order to focus on core items, like our award-winning brisket and crowd-favorite barbecue pork egg rolls, so that they are always the best quality and the best value. We also spend a great deal of time listening to our neighbors, team members and franchisees to ensure our giving philosophy meets their standards so that our giving philosophy meets the needs of our neighborhoods, team members, franchisees, and vendors.

We emphasize the importance of community, but what does community mean to everyone at Sonny’s BBQ? It’s our family, friends and neighbors that work hard to support one another and strengthen connections between coworkers and customers alike. Let’s share the story of Claudia, who values the relationship she creates when training new team members by teaching them the importance of showing kindness to every guest. She goes out of her way to build personal connections with each guest by getting to know them and learning what experiences at Sonny’s delight them. She’s one example of how we deepen our understanding of our customers to meet, and exceed, their expectations. It’s this hospitality that led us to formally establish Random Acts of BBQ in 2014, a program that celebrates and recognizes hometown heroes in our local communities. It’s that same spirit of giving that inspired us to launch ‘Q the Kindness in 2020, our most significant investment to celebrate and recognize people in our communities that are spreading kindness.

What started with selecting our first chief kindness officer and sharing stories of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration to do more good deeds has grown into a force for good. We achieve our kindness mission through an integrated approach that calls on all of us to take a role in making a positive impact. Our Kindness Crew, a diverse group of team members from every level of restaurant operations, focuses on volunteering and kindness challenges to expand our community reach. We have quarterly fundraising efforts in our stores that combine the generosity of our guests and our brand to make an impact for organizations that align with our giving pillars. We also never lose sight of our team members that live Sonny’s values through year-round appreciation events. Through these initiatives we focus on how we treat others and celebrate those that do right by their community. We’re a values driven brand, and that’s what we’ll continue to focus on.   

I’m often asked about what’s next for Sonny’s BBQ. There are the tactical, strategic growth plans like opening four to eight stores annually in new or existing markets and advancing our technology from supply chain to customer experience. As a company, we’ll continue to focus on three pillars: community, quality, and values. We’ll celebrate those doing right by others in our stores and in our local communities through Random Acts of BBQ. We’ll be agile to meet and support community needs through our ‘Q the Kindness initiative. We’ll continue to evolve our products to be of the best quality and value. And, most importantly, we’ll listen and actively participate to become the best stewards of BBQ culture. 

Jamie Yarmuth is responsible for the strategic vision and total performance of the franchise system at Sonny’s BBQ. Jamie is committed to Sonny’s core values and believes it is critical to continually evolve and fine-tune how Sonny’s does business.

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