Gladys Knight wanted to give her son, Shanga Hankerson, an opportunity to achieve success. So when he came up with an idea to open a restaurant in 1997, Knight allowed her son to use her name with the hopes of giving the business an initial boost. The restaurant, Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles, soon became a staple in Atlanta and was known for its mix of breakfast and Southern cuisine. Customers would wait outside for hours to get a table and its downtown location became a popular spot for celebrities and top political figures. With the success of the first restaurant, Hankerson decided to expand the franchise and opened other locations in the Atlanta metro area.
But even with $8 million in annual sales, the three restaurants suffered due to poor management. Employees experienced bounced paychecks and delayed payments and a failed health inspection revealed deep issues within the company. In June, Hankerson was arrested on racketeering charges. According to reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hankerson diverted state income, sales and withholding taxes from his restaurants. He allegedly owed the Georgia Department of Revenue $1 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.
The three restaurants were raided and property and funds were seized by authorities. Knight initially reassured customers after the restaurants failed inspections.
However, Knight has apparently decided to remove herself from the franchise completely. Knight recently filed a lawsuit against her son and wants to force him to remove her name and image from the business. The “Midnight Train to Georgia” singer also wants money from her son and wants to force him to remove all memorabilia featured in the restaurants.
Without Knight’s name on the brand of Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles, it would appear that the franchise which once served as an Atlanta landmark could be in the midst of its final days.