The Sonny’s Story
In 1968, Floyd “Sonny” Tillman and his wife, Lucille, opened a local BBQ joint in Gainesville, Florida. Fifty years and more than a hundred restaurants later, we’re still a local BBQ joint. We’re just in more locations. We still slow-smoke over oak. We still serve generous portions slathered in Southern hospitality. And we still believe people should be able to go out to eat and feel right at home.
Our Cherished History
Sonny’s Starts Smokin’
Floyd “Sonny” Tillman and his wife, Lucille, open up shop on Waldo Road in Gainesville, Florida.
1st Franchised Restaurant Opens
The love of Sonny’s spreads and John Kirkpatrick bought in as our first franchisee.
Bob Buys In
Bob Yarmuth, current Sonny’s Chairman & Director, buys his first Sonny’s BBQ restaurant.
The Torch is Passed
Founder Sonny Tillman sells his BBQ chain to Bob Yarmuth.
100th Restaurant Opens
Officially servin’ BBQ in eight Southeastern states.
A New Sonny’s
We refreshed our brand and restaurants to showcase our craft and put the focus on our Pitmasters.
We created a holiday
We established National Pulled Pork Day as a nationally recognized holiday and broke the Guinness Book of World Records by creating the world’s largest Pulled Pork Sandwich.
‘Q the Kindness kicks off
From Southern Hospitality to Random Acts of BBQ, kindness has always been in our DNA. Our ‘Q The Kindness initiative promotes doing more kind deeds through touching examples and reminders.
Our continued success puts us on track to surpass our ambitious growth objectives. Which is why there’s never been a more exciting time to become a part of our franchise family.
Pitmasters. The Many Faces of Our Food
We were founded by a Pitmaster in 1968. And you’ll find a certified Pitmaster at the heart of each of our restaurants to this day. Cuts of meat. Cooking times and temperatures. Sauces and rubs. You name it, they know it. We make sure of it, thanks to our intensive Pitmaster training program, where potential Pitmasters learn the science of smoking from some of BBQ’s best. They compete in BBQ competitions and go head-to-head with other Pitmasters before earning their spot behind our smokers.
Why do we put so much energy and effort into preparing our Pitmasters? Because they are the faces of our food. Their personalities light up our restaurants and their knowledge, skills and passion for BBQ give our guests confidence knowing our food is prepared by tried and true experts.
Since joining Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2017, James Yarmuth is responsible for the brand’s strategic vision and total performance of the franchise system. James is committed to Sonny’s core values and believes it is critical to continually evolve, perfect our craft, and fine-tune how we do business. Prior to assuming the role of Vice President at Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2017, James worked as a Leadership and Customer Experience Consultant at The Michelli Experience and founded a clothing retail shop in Colorado. James is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Bob Yarmuth was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He graduated from the University of Michigan and received his Juris Doctor from the University of Louisville. Bob became a Sonny’s franchisee in 1980. In 1991, Bob and his cousin, Jeff, purchased Sonny’s from Sonny Tillman, the chain’s founder. Bob served as CEO until 2020, and is currently the Chairman & Director.
As Chief Strategy Officer, Joe Tenczar guides Sonny’s strategic planning, analysis, and innovation. His experience as a restaurant futurist as well as a technology advisor for brands such as Marriott, Ripley’s, and dozens of restaurant companies from emerging to global brands has given Joe a unique perspective on restaurant success criteria and innovation.
Since joining the Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2001, Christie oversees talent and performance management, organizational culture, and human resource services. With more than 25 years of human resources experience, Christie is an expert at recruiting and developing talent and shaping organizational culture with a focus on building high-performing teams. Christie also is instrumental in delivering the Sonny’s customer experience by uniting all areas of the business with the needs of Sonny’s customer. Christie Schatz graduated from Florida State University with a BA in Social Science and an MS in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies, with an emphasis in Human Performance Technology.
Peter Frey joined Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2019, having extensive experience in omni-channel marketing, product introduction, business strategy development and implementation in US and International markets. He is responsible for creating brand recognition strategies that build equity and deepen customer connections with the specific purpose to increase sales, traffic and love for the brand. He is experienced leading high performing teams across a variety of competitive industries, including Apple Leisure Group, Darden Restaurants, SeaWorld Parks and Saatchi & Saatchi. Peter holds a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from the University of Florida and an MBA from Stetson University.
As Vice President of Operations at Sonny’s Franchise Company, Billy Brewer leads the charge in creating guest experiences slathered in southern hospitality. As part of the Sonny’s leadership team, Billy keeps a steady eye on both corporate and franchise operations, while focusing on product quality and safety, training strategies, and building strong relationships with Sonny’s franchisees. He also oversees purchasing, and product development for the organization. With over two decades of leadership expertise in company and franchise operations, Billy joined Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2014 after serving multiple leadership roles at Chili’s on both the corporate and franchise side of the business.
Laura Poe joined Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2019 with a focus on public relations and communications strategy. She has helped to oversee the creation and launch of Sonny’s ‘Q the Kindness platform along with the development of the first-ever role of Chief Kindness Officer for the brand. Laura has also been instrumental in establishing the brand’s philanthropic giving pillars: disaster relief, hunger and food insecurity, and first responders. Laura earned a Bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications with a concentration in Business Administration from the University of Florida.
Ken Wright joined Sonny’s Franchise Company in 2013. He has been in the restaurant industry for over 15 years and has spent a significant amount of time in operation management and technology. Specialties include a strategic focus on implementing and optimizing technology within the organization. Ken helps lead the IT and Data teams for Sonny’s. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Central Florida.