Seating ban at Sonny Boy’s Barbecue spawns protest

Cash Mob at Sonny Boy's Barbecue Express, Hurricane, Utah, April 27, 2012 | Photo by Ryan Carter for St. George News

HURRICANE – When patrons of Sonny Boy’s Barbecue Express in Hurricane caught wind of the city prohibiting the mobile vendor’s addition of tables in front of the establishment, they rallied together in protest. Unbeknownst to owners Lon and Jeanne Allen, Sonny Boy’s customers started a Facebook page under the banner “We Support Sonny’s BBQ,” garnering over a hundred followers within days and calling for a cash mob to converge April 27.

The week prior, on Friday afternoon, Toni Foran, of the Hurricane City Planning Department came out to Sonny Boy’s at the direction of the City Council, giving notice that by Monday morning all tables must be gone.

St. George News spoke with Lon Allen in the evening after the cash mob had struck.

Lon and Jeanne Allen, owners of Sonny Boy's Barbecue Express, Hurricane, Utah, 2012 | Photo courtesy of Lon Allen

“We were surprised that even though we’ve only been open since February that our customers were so loyal,” Allen said, “and because of it, we’re having a record day in sales … and that’s nice but the bigger side of it is seeing the support from the community.”

“I think it’s just stupid they can’t have tables,” Ryan Carter said. “I am really concerned about the city, Hurricane, and what they’re up to – they talk about being pro-business and  I, as a consumer, am upset that I don’t have a place to sit down and eat because of the city, not because of the vendor.”

Sonny Boy’s first added four little folding picnic tables, which were filling up during lunch hours, so they added four more. Allen said if they don’t have a place to sit, they will go elsewhere – even outside of Hurricane.

He said he knew there were a number of other restaurants that were unhappy and crying foul that felt it was unfair because they were paying impact fees per seat and he was not. Foran confirmed that restaurants pay impact fees per seat, give or take $260 per seat. Allen said the economics of his mobile unit would not justify such an expense, pointing out that an outdoor mobile unit is subject to factors a brick and mortar infrastructure is not – weather being one such example.

Over the years, Hurricane has approved a couple of mobile food vendors most of which, like Perks! Foran said were accessories to the permitted use for a site.

Lori Hanna, owner of Perks! which was situated in the Lin’s grocery store parking lot until it lost its lease, said, “It’s been a few years now but we always had a good working relationship with the city.  Matter of fact, we often told people how much (more) pleasant it was to work with Hurricane city than St. George.”

The approved site plan for Sonny’s as a mobile food vendor was the same as Perks! Foran said. “You come, you get your food, you leave – based on that, there were no impact fees; he was asked to landscape and to pave, the approval, the parking and everything was based on someone getting their food and they leave, we understand a table for condiments, but when one came and then another and another – the complaints were loud.”

Foran said that the city council had gone to Allen before. She said the concern the council talked about was parking, that the parking problems will go if they just take away the tables.

But customers of Sonny’s are not happy and they are not going away.

“This was worth the drive from St. George,” Kasey Campbell said as he joined the cash mob. “They have excellent barbecue, and great people to support.”

“I just found a new addiction,” Pat Brown said, he was also participating in the cash mob. “Great food and reasonable prices. What a great way to support local small business.”

They would obey the law and the request of the city, Allen said, but as the city had heard the concerns of the business people and taken those into consideration he’d like them to hear the concerns of his customers.

The loyalists of “We Support Sonny’s BBQ” Facebook are determined to be heard, they want the tables back. As this story goes to publication, they are 294 Facebook subscribers strong and an op-ed on the matter has been received publishing May 8.

email: [email protected]

twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic

Copyright 2012 St. George News. 

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  • Dr Andrew White May 9, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Good story. I’m glad you interviewed people on several facets of the controversy. I hope the city and proprietor can work out an agreement.

  • Jerk Pit Master May 14, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Common issue for food trucks around the country in most states. Your license does not permit you to provide seating for customers. Might even be a problem if they brought there own chairs.

    Solution – use standing height tables or substitutes like ironing boards.

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