Country Base: USA
Industry/Sector/Keywords: Restaurants and Fast Foods, Dining, Beverages
Below: Before and After Images in Slide Show, Video, Summary, Credits


Industry Setting

Founded in Gainesville, FL, in 1968 as a true BBQ “joint,” Sonny’s Barbecue caught the attention of Central Florida with its award-winning ribs, pork and chicken. After opening three more local stores, the concept was bought by two franchisees who grew it to over 130 locations during the ’80s and ’90s.


As the chain grew, so did the casual dining space and soon a brand founded on BBQ drifted into the all-you-can-eat, low-price, high-volume space that featured BBQ, hamburgers, chicken, salads and more. Pricing ultimately became the driving force of the brand instead of BBQ principles, and the brand found itself caught in a no-man’s land of low-cost and low-quality offerings.

Retaking a Seat at the BBQ Table: After an internal buyout, ownership wanted to get back to Sonny’s original barbecue roots. They hired a true competition Pitmaster to become the COO and he in turn hired us. We deconstructed the existing brand and moved it from constantly “selling” all you can eat to telling a richer story of why you want to eat at Sonny’s.


The first thing we did was fire the fake TV commercial “Pitmaster” and put multiple real Sonny’s Pitmasters in the marketing campaigns. The photography moved from poorly done “food porn” to naturally lit barbecue in both its constructed and deconstructed representations. We brought a tactile nature back to the design with a focus on real materials. And we touched every point of contact a customer could have with the brand, from marketing to uniforms to menu design to the actual design of their next-gen restaurant.

Same-store-sales are up 8% – 9% system wide and up 35% at the rebranded locations.


Client: Sonny’s BBQ –

Brand Strategists/Designers: Push –
Lead Strategy: John Ludwig
Chief Creative Officer: Mark Unger
Chief Brand Officer: Chris Robb
Creative Director: Ron Boucher
Associate Creative Director: Kevin Harrell
Sr. Art Director/Lead Design: Chris Ladwig
Account Lead: Jessica Sykes
Photography: John Deeb
Joe Ciaramella
Jordan Damato