Back in 1997, Gladys Knight gave her son Shanga Hankerson the right to use her name, likeness, recipes, and memorabilia in connection with a restaurant he hoped to open in Atlanta. The joint quickly took off and Hankerson soon opened two other branches in the Atlanta area.
But Hankerson and the restaurants—dubbed Gladys Knight's Chicken & Waffles—have fallen into trouble of late, and now the Empress of Soul is suing her son to get him to remove any mention of her name or use of her likeness in connection with the troubled chain. The lawsuit was filed in Atlanta federal court and alleges that the decline of the restaurants is damaging Knight's intellectual property and reputation.
It started as a beautiful story: A mother helped a troubled son—devastated by his parents' divorce and severely overweight—to find his footing and become a restauranteur. The place was said to be modeled on chicken-and-waffles joints in Harlem, and was known for a special called The Midnight Train, which featured four jumbo chicken wings served on a golden waffle.
Knight gave the following statement regarding the lawsuit to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "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."
What kind of trouble could make a mother sue to have her name taken off the restaurant run by her very own son? Pretty big trouble.
Hankerson was arrested in June for pocketing taxes that the restaurant had taken in from customers. Witnesses say he used that money to fund sex parties and to buy weed. The restaurants also suffered: Poor health inspections ensued, employees said they weren't being paid, and one of the three outposts was closed this month. All three were raided by federal agents and accounts were frozen. Gladys Knight's Chicken & Waffles is now in receivership.
The lawsuit describes a restaurant chain rampant with problems: "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."
In other words, things are looking very, very bad for the restaurant chain and for Shanga Hankerson. And Gladys thought the Pips—with whom she parted ways in the late 1980s—were trouble! It looks as though Knight may be taking the next midnight train to Georgia to appear in court—all in an effort to distance herself from her partying son's restaurants.