Sonny's BBQ

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Sonny's BBQ
FounderFloyd 'Sonny' Tillman
Number of locations
Area served
Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee
Key people
Sonny Tillman, John Yarmuth
OwnerBob Yarmuth

Sonny's BBQ is a barbecue restaurant chain founded by Floyd "Sonny" Tillman in Gainesville, Florida in 1968. Bob Yarmuth purchased the company in 1991 and continues as the company's owner and CEO today. Sonny's BBQ now has 113 restaurants across nine Southeastern states and is headquartered in Maitland, Florida. The restaurant specializes in Southern-style BBQ.


A Sonny's BBQ in Lake City, Florida

Sonny's Real Pit-Bar-B-Q was founded in April 17, 1968 by Floyd "Sonny" Tillman and his wife Lucille, starting with a single location on Waldo Road in Gainesville, Florida.[2] The company began franchising nine years later in 1977 with a menu consisting of pork, beef, ribs, chicken, beans and other sides.[3][4] In 1988, Sonny's BBQ had grown to 77 restaurants across six states and Tillman sold the company to outside investors.[5] In 1991, Bob Yarmuth purchased the company.[6]

During the 2000s, Sonny's was the largest BBQ restaurant chain in the United States, with about 150 locations across nine states. In 2011, the company had 125 operating franchised restaurants. In 2012, the company moved its headquarters to Winter Park, Florida and in 2013, the company changed its name from Sonny's Real Pit-Bar-B-Q to Sonny's BBQ.[3][7][8][9]

Sonny Tillman's birthday is celebrated as a special event by the restaurant each August 14. Despite selling the franchise, Tillman retained ownership of the original Sonny's BBQ until 2011, when he relinquished his franchisee agreement. Afterwards he continued to attend grand openings, sometimes appearing in commercials, and participating in other events.[10][11][12][13] Events held by Sonny's include its Random Acts of BBQ events, where individual restaurants provide a BBQ feast for community volunteers and volunteer organizations.[14][15] The company named October 12 as National Pulled Pork Day beginning in 2016, which is celebrated at all Sonny's location.[1]


Sonny's BBQ menu has Southern style barbecue including pulled pork, sliced pork, baby back ribs, buffalo wings, St. Louis style ribs, and beef brisket; along with burgers, appetizers and sides.[16][17][18][19]

2008 Recession[edit]

On September 25, 2008, Greater Atlanta Bar-B-Q (the only Metro Atlanta franchisee of Sonny's) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for ten locations, four of which were closed completely, raising concerns about another restaurant's viability after Metromedia Restaurant Group closed its Bennigan's and Steak & Ale restaurant chains. Yet as of the first week of June 2009, it came out of bankruptcy completing Chapter 11 requirements.[20] On October 15, 2008, all three Sonny's locations in the greater Daytona Beach area of Florida were closed.[21] As of December 1, 2009, the Tifton, Georgia, restaurant became known as the Smokehouse Restaurant due to disputes with Sonny's over imagery and icons in the restaurant itself and on employees' clothing.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kimberlie Clyma (October 12, 2016). "Sonny's BBQ Declares National Pulled Pork Day". Meat and Poultry Magazine.
  2. ^ "About Sonny's BBQ". Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Ray Lampe (2007). Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip!. Macmillan. Retrieved September 2, 2014.
  4. ^ Robb Walsh (2013). Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey. University of Texas Press. p. 107. Retrieved September 1, 2014.
  5. ^ Robert F. Moss (2010). Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. University of Alabama Press. p. 237. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  6. ^ "Hoovers: Sonny's BBQ". Retrieved September 7, 2014.
  7. ^ "Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q Cooking Up Big Changes". QSR Magazine. July 11, 2013. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  8. ^ Erin Dostal (July 3, 2013). "Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q hires COO, VP of marketing: Brandon Manly and Dominic Losacco have filled the positions, respectively". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  9. ^ Gary Mills (July 17, 2013). "Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q unveils new name, look". Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  10. ^ "Celebrate Sonny's BBQ founder, Sonny Tillman's 85th birthday". Retrieved September 6, 2014.
  11. ^ "Sonny's BBQ founder celebrates 85th birthday at Waldo Road restaurant". August 14, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  12. ^ Andrea Rumbaugh (September 9, 2011). "'Sonny' Tillman sells Alachua BBQ location". Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  13. ^ Sarah Pedicini. "Talking With ... Monique Yeager: Sonny's BBQ is still cookin'". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  14. ^ Alex de Armas (17 November 2014). "Community Counts: Random Acts of BBQ". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  15. ^ "Sonny's Real Pit BBQ feeds 120 to mark 20th anniversary". Northwest Georgia News. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  16. ^ Marcia Heroux Pounds (February 8, 1999). "Regional Flavors May Go National under Florida-Based Barbecue Chain". Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
  17. ^ Michael W. Sherer (July 24, 1989). "How about some steak with that salad? Steakhouses continue to offer bigger food bars - but not at the expense of beef sales, executives say. (400: Steak & BBQ)". Restaurants & Institutions. Archived from the original on March 18, 2016. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  18. ^ Nora Caley (January 28, 2002). "Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q: Adapting its menu to the territory's particular taste is this restaurant chain's recipe for expansion. (Regional Powerhouse Chains)". Nation's Restaurant News. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
  19. ^ Barbara Mchatton. "Sonny's Franchise Company". Food and Drink Magazine. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  20. ^ Trubey, J. Scott (2008-09-25). "Operator of 10 Sonny's restaurants files for Chapter 11". Atlanta Business Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-09-26.
  21. ^ Sonny's in Daytona Closes but Chain is Poised for Growth
  22. ^ Thompson, Angie (2009-12-01). "Tifton Gazette - Tifton restaurant owner loses Sonny's franchise". Tifton Gazette. Tifton Gazette. Retrieved 2009-12-16.

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