Sonny's Bbq Is Still Cookin'

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monique Yeager is the director of corporate affairs and marketing at Maitland-based Sonny's Franchise Co., the parent company of Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q restaurants. Yeager spoke with Orlando Sentinel reporter Sandra Pedicini.

Tell me a little about how Sonny's has been faring during the recession.

We were voted in the top five for casual dining restaurants for value by Consumer Reports, so our value message has been known and appreciated for the past 41 years that Sonny's has been around ... We have maintained good business during this economic time ... We're very competitive when it comes to the sales and the guest counts in our restaurants ... We're actually doing very well. We haven't closed any restaurants due to the economy.

Can you be more specific about sales? We're flat to down. I can't give you specifics because we're a privately held company ... We're a midlevel casual dining restaurant so we're doing a lot better than most restaurants.

Has Sonny's done any kind of aggressive discounting such as offering coupons? You know, we don't do a whole lot of that, in this market, especially. We do have franchisees who do coupons in their markets, however ... we chose not to do deep discounts. That's not who we are. We already have that value message, and that value message is known with our consumers. We don't go in and discount that even more.

How are things going with the new restaurant prototypes that debuted a while back, including the large bar areas? We're going through remodels now with the older locations to reflect the more relevant concepts, which includes the bar. We'll be doing more of those locations here in Orlando. ... In some locations, there's a full patio outside as well. In addition to the bar, the decor changed. It's more modern. It's more comfortable. When you walk in, it creates an environment just of more room, more space. There are no wagon wheel lights. Light fixtures have changed. The paints have changed on the walls. There's more color. It's just a more pleasing environment.

You're opening a restaurant in an old Bennigan's in the Lee Vista area. Are any other new restaurants being built? That's the one we've bought in Orlando. A lot of them now we're remodeling. We've focused on the remodels as opposed to building from the ground up.

Sonny's also debuted some new menu items a couple years ago, such as barbecue quesadillas and barbecue pulled chicken. What happened to those? Those were in our test markets. We have a certain amount of stores that tested it, two in Orlando that tested it. It didn't fare as well as we thought it would, not because of taste, either. They were very good quality products. I just think people don't expect it when you go to Sonny's, so they have come off the menu.

Tell me a little about the new ad agency you just hired. Is anything noticeable going to change about Sonny's media strategy? I think you'll see a significant change in the brand messaging, a change in the look and the feel of the advertising. Hopefully it will resonate with our consumers. We'll be developing a Facebook page, a Twitter page. We're going to become more aggressive and assertive in our advertising. ... It will be more of an emotional bond, hopefully, created with our consumers, (conveying that) Sonny's is a destination place you want to go when you want to relax and slow your life down.

Is your founder, Sonny Tillman, still a public face of the company? He is. Sonny still owns one location in Alachua and he's done our commercials in the past. ... We still have him come to some grand openings ... and anniversaries and things like that because people love him. ... I call him the icon. He's still a recognized person with Sonny's.

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Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q
850 Concourse Parkway S. Suite 150
Maitland, FL

Phone: (407) 660-8888
Fax: (407) 660-1285

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