Family-Owned Business: Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q




(L–R): Chip Dixon, Hannah, Kaye, John, Ken, and Peggy Kirkpatrick, Kyle Dixon, Kayla Kirkpatrick, and Tray Dixon.


John and Peggy Kirkpatrick know a thing or two about Bar-B-Q. In 1977 John convinced his good friend, Sonny Tillman, the chain’s founder, to let him open the first-ever Sonny’s franchise on SR 200 right here in Ocala.


“During the following 20 years, John built, bought, and sold close to 20 Sonny’s franchises throughout the southeast,” says Chief Executive Officer Ken Kirkpatrick. “I got involved in the business in 2001 when we bought three stores in Jacksonville. After my brother Jay passed away, my dad retired. Chip Dixon had worked with John for 15 years when he and I formed a partnership. Together we began to operate three Jacksonville stores, three stores in Ocala/Belleview, and one store in Inverness.”


“Since then we’ve been building and acquiring locations as the opportunities presented themselves,” says Ken, “and together with Kaye Kirkpatrick, my sister-in-law, we currently own and operate 16 locations from Jacksonville to Bushnell.” The company’s newest location is in Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages.


How has Sonny’s become so successful? “Exceptional team members,” says Chip. “We believe in teamwork, involvement, and urgency. We have a lot of moving parts, yet in our restaurants, our office, and within our management team, we have sincere people who care, working together to make Sonny’s the best choice for our guests and our team members. I’m proud to have my sons, Kyle and Trey, and Kaye’s daughters, Hannah and Kayla, work at Sonny’s and be a part of this culture.”


As long-time residents of Ocala and the surrounding areas, Ken, Chip, and Kaye understand the importance of community involvement. The list of charities and organizations that benefit yearly from the restaurants is extensive and includes the March of Dimes, MCYFL, local high schools and teachers, churches, as well as local law enforcement.


“We try to be good stewards of what we’ve been entrusted with,” says Ken. “We’re grateful that we’ve reached a point that allows us to give back to the communities that have supported us over the years.”


Responsible for the livelihoods of more than 800 employees, Sonny’s leadership stresses the significance of great food at a great price combined with fast, friendly service.


“We try to be true to our roots,” Kaye says, “and we focus on serving the best bar-becue that we can. It’s important that our guests feel at home when they dine with us.”


And ask anyone who’s eaten at Sonny’s what their favorite menu item is and they’d be hard-pressed to choose just one. From the Original Recipe Bar-B-Q Beans to the signature sweet tea, lunch or dinner at Sonny’s is both filling and delicious. And no matter what type of genuine Bar-B-Q you choose—beef, pork, chicken, or ribs—it’s all slow-cooked to perfection right there on the premises, each and every time.


4102 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala


1845 SW College Road, Ocala


1794 SW County Road 484, Ocala


5209 SE Abshier Blvd., Belleview


1128 Canal Street, The Villages


sonnysbbq.com

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