By Willoughby Mariano, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Soul music legend Gladys Knight is asking a judge to remove her name and likeness from her son’s troubled chicken and waffle restaurants, saying their flagging fortunes are hurting her reputation.
The suit, filed recently in Atlanta federal court, also asks that Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles stop using the Empress of Soul’s recipes and memorabilia.
“The Restaurants are in free fall and their decline necessarily has the collateral effect of damaging Knight’s Intellectual Property and Knight’s reputation,” the suit states.
In a written statement sent to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Knight said she wants to distance herself from the restaurant business as its legal troubles move through court.
“Until the legal issues are resolved it is best to remove my name because I do not have an interest in or influence over the restaurants. I have invested sixty-years of my life developing my craft, name and brand and I do not want my name associated with the business at this time,” Knight said.
Knight’s son Shanga Hankerson was arrested in June after a Georgia Department of Revenue investigation found that he pocketed taxes that the restaurant collected from customers, according to his arrest warrant. Knight, an Atlanta native, is not suspected of wrongdoing.
Witnesses told investigators that the money was being used for sex parties and marijuana, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found. Employees went unpaid and said they worked under unhealthy conditions. Restaurant leadership cut corners that led to bad health inspection scores and service.
One of the restaurant’s three locations closed its doors permanently earlier this month. The remaining locations, including the popular downtown Atlanta storefront, are operating under receivership.
Knight had considered ending the agreement that let Hankerson use her name as early as 2009 for “what she perceived as mismanagement of the Restaurants,” but only decided to move forward this year, according to the complaint, which was filed Friday. The move was formalized July 21, but the business, through its receiver, has continued to use her name, likeness and memorabilia, it states.
A state Department of Revenue investigator declined comment on the lawsuit, but said that the agency is pleased that the remaining restaurants are in business.
“We’re happy to see stores are still operating and employees are keeping their jobs,” said Joshua Waites, director of the department’s office of special investigations. “That’s our main goal.”
The suit describes the restaurants as “an important tribute to Knight’s storied career,” and complains that they are being run poorly.
“They often have insufficient food to serve patrons and a number of menu items are often unavailable. They keep irregular hours, often opening late and closing early. They have fewer employees than normal and are operated in a disorderly manner,” the suit states.