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Patriot’s displaced: Arby’s reclaims its name

by Dave McNair

dish-arbys-signArby’s has reclaimed its restaurant at Forest Lakes.

Forest Lake’s Arby’s owner Tom Slonaker has finally left the building. According to Emmet’s Street Arby’s manager Ginger Herdon, the same company that owns her restaurant has purchased the building from Slonaker, who recently renamed his Arby’s A Patriot’s Place after a dispute with the Arby’s franchise over what kind of food he could offer.

Slonaker, a flamboyant businessman with a Libertarian bent, had repeatedly defied a County zoning ordinance prohibiting commercial flags (an ordinance that has been in place since 1969) by hoisting an Arby’s flag in front of his restaurant, along with signs for another business he owns. Later, he claimed the sign ordinance was enforced unevenly against businesses along 29 North, and he filed a civil suit against the county with the help of the Rutherford Institute, which argued that Slonaker’s First Amendment rights were being trampled upon. But last year a judge ruled that Slonaker had violated the sign ordinance and slapped him with $1,000 fines for several violations.

After tearing the Arby’s signs off the side of his building in November, Slonaker replaced them with illuminated American flags and renamed the restaurant, claiming he wanted A Patriot’s Place to become a place to eat good American food and learn about the words and the ideals of the founding fathers.

“This country, this town is so divided,” said Slonaker, who organized a Tea Party event at the restaurant before the mid-term elections. “I hope this new concept conveys to people that we have to come together to fix the problems of this country.”

However, he may have also been struggling. “If I’m going to lose money,” he added, “I might as well do it on my own terms.”

Apparently, Slonaker decided to take care of his own problems instead. The businessman could not be immediately reached for comment, as the phone number for his other local business, Cville Inflatables, which rents festive backyard jump-and-play structures, simply cut off when we tried to call. The website for Cville Inflatables is also no longer active.

But Dish thinks this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Mr. Slonaker.

  • Gasbag Self Ordained Expert January 11th, 2011 | 2:21 pm

    I wish Sonaker well in whatever he chooses to do.

    I still firmly believe he was singled out by the county for personal and intense harassment, for whatever reason.

  • cow January 11th, 2011 | 3:03 pm

    Oh good. Arbys rules

  • Walking Tall January 11th, 2011 | 3:20 pm

    Funny how you don’t get “harrassed” when you don’t break the law.

    I look forward to eating at that location. I had refused to enter the place before now.

  • confused easily January 11th, 2011 | 5:19 pm

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  • Gasbag Self Ordained Expert January 11th, 2011 | 6:37 pm

    Slonaker in over his head! HAHAHA!!!!

    This is how vicious rumors get started!

  • NEONJADE January 11th, 2011 | 6:53 pm

    deleted by moderator

  • Arby January 11th, 2011 | 10:17 pm

    You see, “gasbarge” is what is known as a “Libertarian groopie”. Hardcore members or: “plastercasters” actually capture physical mementos of real dissenters. Gasbog has kept french-fry DNA from a patrioTs pLaCe and will use it for?? Gasbog….please respond.

  • HarryD January 11th, 2011 | 10:41 pm

    Tom fought for what he believed in- our 1st amendment rights. I would hope all business owners would do the same. He risked it all for the right to express himself through a business. If you didn’t like his views, you didn’t buy his goods or services.

    If, instead, you persecuted him for those views, expressed with his money and on his property, within the 1st amendment and the ruless and regulations governing that property, then you were infringing upon all of our 1st amendment rights.

  • cookieJar January 11th, 2011 | 10:55 pm

    HarryD, Did you somehow miss the fact that failing to adhere to the rules and regulations governing that property was the root of Mr. Slonaker’s problems? What do you think a sign ordinance is if not a rule or regulation?

  • confused easily January 11th, 2011 | 11:11 pm

    HarryD - Slonaker “risked it all”? He got a ticket and paid a $1,000 fine. Big deal.

  • TJB January 12th, 2011 | 6:30 am

    Man I missed this story, I had thought Arbys simply abandoned the location and some polictical organization was using the building, I didn’t even realize they were serving food there., Everytime I drove by there, I never saw any cars in the lot. In the end, I think Tom could have found better ways to express himself.

  • HarryD January 12th, 2011 | 6:58 am

    CookieJar- Didn’t miss a thing ……..show us how he violated a sign ordinance and how others did not…..”commercial flags” vs “commercal feathers”………

    confused easily- “he risked it all”- the fine was certainly not a big deal- he decided to sell out because of the issues he had with the County and perhaps business being bad- When he started there was no competition.

  • Hoolarious January 12th, 2011 | 8:24 am

    deleted by moderator

  • Gasbag Self Ordained Expert January 12th, 2011 | 9:15 am

    People have been covertly protesting and defeating the county sign ordinance for years. Tractor trailers parked out front with mattress advertising on them. A cell phone company bought an old armored truck, put their business logo on it and parked it out front near the roadway. And most recently a car dealership has a tire advertisement on a brand new truck in front of their business near the roadway. The list goes on and on. The violations are numerous, still to this day. But Slonaker was the only person I ever recall being singled out and harassed.

  • Scott January 12th, 2011 | 10:08 am

    This reminds me of our good friend Jeff Clark from Danville - another freedom-loving patriot oppressed by the central planners in our socialism loving gubmint - and yet another one who can’t seem to balance his own books. Christine O’Donnell - another freedom-and-personal-responsibility-loving-patriot - with her campaign finance and mortgage issues - comes to mind. I wonder how much of this thrashing angst against the government is misdirected anger and frustration from other struggles - personal financial issues…which might, just maybe, be the result of some bad personal decisions.

    It’s truly hilarious to listen to people like Mr. Clark - the irony could not possibly be thicker - complain about how the government lives beyond it’s own means and is irresponsible with credit and borrowing, etc. - or people like Mr. Slonaker complaining about how the government should be run more like a business, while touting their own credentials as business people. Does Mr. Slonaker seriously contend that the county’s signage restrictions are responsible for his fast-food business failure? Clearly lots of other fast food businesses are capable of complying with the regulations and thriving.

    GSOE - I would be the first to agree that local government or law enforcement frequently engages in selective enforcement - of all sorts - but I recall several other cases as well - Mr. Slonaker was hardly alone. The perpetually-going-out-of-business-sale-oriental-rug guy leaps to mind. And you should very well know that regardless of how sloppy or uneven the enforcement of the ordinance was, once Slonaker tried to make a point and pick a fight about it, the county had not much choice.

  • Gasbag Self Ordained Expert January 12th, 2011 | 11:10 am

    Scott, indeed, you have valid points. This is the issue though. There should no selective enforcement. Selective enforcement causes friction and provocation. Enforce the laws equally.

    I mentioned this once before. Around 1979, out of all the residents legally dodging or avoiding personal property taxes in the County of Albemarle for many many years, the county singled out my father because he bought a new Cadillac and a new truck every year. He would sell his vehicles in late December, and not take delivery of his new vehicles until January 2. The county insisted that my father start paying taxes on the vehicles as if he owned them on January 1. And they wanted this tax bill to be retroactive as well, taxes due on previous years. He refused. They charged him with tax evasion. Obviously the judge threw the case out and made the county pay my father’s attorney fees. But the point remains, the county singled out one individual for harassment, my father. My father always claimed it was personal, a certain county employee in the finance department and my father were not best of friends in the first place. He says the county employee abused his authority and was just trying to make trouble for my father. I think the same thing happened to Slonaker.

  • Chris January 12th, 2011 | 11:34 am

    The sign ordinance didn’t have anything to do with his no longer having an Arby’s (and ripping the signs off of the building). His repeated breaking of the terms of his franchise contract with Arby’s is the reason he had to cease operating his restaurant as an Arby’s.

    From the article in the DP: http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2010/nov/09/restaurant-serving-poultry-patriotism-ar-643053/

    “It was not our decision, actually. It was Arby’s decision,” Slonaker said. “I just simply said, ‘Look. I’m going to do the kind of things the successful franchises do. I’m going to offer chicken. I’m going to offer a great product. I’m going to offer desserts, and whether Arby’s allows me to do that according to my … agreement or not, we’re going to do it. And if Arby’s says we can’t, then, you know, we can’t be an Arby’s anymore.’”

    Short version, “yeah, I’ve got a contract that I signed but I’m going to ignore it.” The responsible thing would have been to terminate the contract and do his own thing. Or try to renegotiate (with the knowledge that Arby’s might decline to do so).

    I don’t know that man at all and this isn’t any commentary on him as a person. I think he handled this thing poorly.

  • Did January 12th, 2011 | 11:45 am

    Selective enforcement is an everyday fact of life in law enforcement.

  • The Native January 12th, 2011 | 12:33 pm

    According to historians, the personal journal of England’s King George III, the entry for July 4, 1776 is recorded as “Nothing of any significance transpired this day.” From his perspective, perhaps nothing did, but from our perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, it took some time for our foundational document of freedom, declaring our independence to make it across the ocean. It took time for the pebble, that our fifty-six founding fathers had just dropped into the currents of history, to ripple through time. I fear that a new pebble has just been dropped, yet, drowned out by the headlines of other world and national events, I can not help but inquire, did anyone else hear the splash?
    In the annals of time, given all that is currently occupying our attention, this may not seem to matter. It may not seem significant, and many may be glad to be able to purchase a roast beef sandwich without having to go down to Barracks Road. No doubt, there will be some citizens who will be relieved, not having to hear about whatever new controversy is taking place in regards to sign ordinances, etc. To those who only relish fast food availability, or a quieter news cycle, I would respectfully inquire; do you not see the larger picture? Do you appreciate the significance of that silenced voice?
    In 1835, Lyman Beecher wrote in his Plea for the West: “If this nation is, in the providence of God, destined to lead the way in the moral and political emancipation of the world, it is time she understood her high calling, and were harnessed for the work. For mighty causes, like floods from distant mountains, are rushing with accumulating power to their consummation of good or evil, and
    soon our character and destiny will be stereotyped forever.” With the announcement of Mr. Slonaker’s decision to sell, we are witnessing the floods of tyranny washing away the bedrock of freedom. His is just one more voice that has been silenced. Will it make any difference? Maybe not today or tomorrow. Maybe not to us, or even our children. But what about our grandchildren? Tyranny never appears in an instant. It grows like a weed; silently encroaching and taking root, then, it seemingly is everywhere, requiring far more energy and diligence to control it. Likewise, we can lose our rights, either by being deceived into laying them down willingly, or through coercive legislation and practices. We may not even notice their loss or lack today, but it will take a thousand years to get them back.
    I want to extend my appreciation to Mr. Slonaker for the contributions he has made to this community. As a businessman, generating tax revenue. As a citizen, contributing to various causes and assisting with fundraisers for different organizations. Most especially, for his patriotic support of and fight for-freedom. He has provided a living example of everything that our founding fathers embodied in their “Spirit of 76.” At great personal expense, he stood for the principals of freedom, in hopes that he would leave a legacy for those generations that will follow. In that endeavor, he has unarguably been successful, for those whose perceptions are clear and sagacious enough to recognize it. My family and I have eaten plenty of roast beef and drank enough revolutionary coffee, to lend aid to the cause. No doubt, the delicacies that will be subsequently served in that location will never taste quite as sweet to me.
    Needless to say, life goes on, but it will be just a little less free. The floodwaters of tyranny will now wash upon shores of new business owners or others that desired to live the dream. Just as trees that have stood for years, fall victim to storms, when the larger, more deeply rooted trees are removed and no longer afford protection, so too will we see the pressure of coercion find new targets to replace the old. The old story about not caring when the foes of freedom came for this person or that group, but are suddenly manifest when you are the one called to stand, and there is no one there to stand with you, is poignantly remembered here. Thank you Tom Slonaker. It the truest sense of being a Virginian, you’ve done us proud.

  • Gaslog January 12th, 2011 | 1:38 pm

    The sandwich is mightier than the sword.

  • Tastes like chicken January 12th, 2011 | 4:37 pm

    “The deep secret of America is not that its passions have become binary; it’s that binary passions give us a free pass that we’ve confused with our freedoms. One need look no further than the “debate” over global warming to understand that we’ve become addicted to political polarization as surely as we’ve become addicted to fossil fuels, and for the same reason: because it offers a handy excuse for inaction; because it allows us to exalt our “way of life” without ever facing its consequences. The spectacle of public slaughter has become almost as endemic to the United States as it has to the fledgling democracy of Iraq, with the legally-purchased handgun our version of the suicide belt; our own polarization may or may not inspire the practice, but it certainly ensures that the practice continues, defended by a citizenry whose penchant for false choices allows it the luxurious choice of doing absolutely nothing.”

    Read more: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/american-tragedies-4842372#ixzz1ArL8WUp8

  • Chris January 12th, 2011 | 5:12 pm

    @ The Native - again I’d note that Mr. Slonaker’s restaurant being changed from Arby’s to A Patriot’s Place didn’t have anything to do with the sign ordinance (which may be an abysmal infringement of freedom) but rather with his voluntary choice to continue to violate the terms of a contract into which he entered voluntarily and could, presumably, have exited voluntarily. That’s not fighting for freedom, that’s shirking one’s responsibilities as a party to a legal contract.

    There are two quite separate discussions to be had here. Conflating them confuses the issue.

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