Evolutionary experience: Rule-fighting Arby's becomes A Patriot's Place

dish-arbys-signThe Forest Lakes Arby's sign gets replaced with an American Flag.

Forest Lakes Arby’s owner Tom Slonaker has never been shy about promoting his business while expressing his libertarian beliefs, a tendency that's got him in some hot water with County officials over the years, and those beliefs appear to have helped create a new restaurant concept.

Slonaker has 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. In 2003, Slonaker even hosted a "rally around the flag" event by handing out little Arby's flags for people to put on their cars, and portraying the situation as a property rights issue.

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 on.

Last year, however, a judge ruled that Slonaker had violated the sign ordinance and slapped him with $1,000 fines for several violations.

Meanwhile, Slonaker has also been having issues with Arby's corporate rules, which have not allowed him to

news-slonakerarbys-mSlonaker has been fighting County rules since 2003.

add his own menu items. Specifically, he's wanted to add soft-serve ice cream and "pressure cooked chicken," which he describes as "fried chicken without all the grease."

"People rave about it," he says. "We've invested quite alot in the equipment."

dish-arbys-voteShortly before the November 2 election, Slonaker covered up his Arby's sign.

So, after 11 years as an Arby's franchise, Slonaker says he cut ties with the company and has yanked the Arby's logos off the side of the building. Indeed, almost overnight, the restaurant looked like a polling place around the time of Election Day. Slonaker had covered the roadside Arby's signs with white banners encouraging people to vote, put up American flags everywhere, and renamed the restaurant A Patriot's Place.

"This country, this town is so divided," says Slonaker in a distinctive radio announcer's voice. "I hope this new concept conveys to people that we have to come together to fix the problems of this country."

Slonaker says he hopes people can come to Patriot's Place to eat good American food and learn about the words and the ideals of the founding fathers. He's calling it a "revolutionary" experience.

Indeed, before the election Slonaker hosted a town hall meeting at his Arby's between eventually defeated Rep. Tom Perriello and local Tea Party activists.

"I've known Tom since he was a little boy," says Slonaker. "And I knew his father, Dr. Vito Perriello. I have a lot of admiration for him."

Slonaker points to the Perriello town hall meeting as the kind of thing he hopes A Patriot's Place will help promote, in which opposing groups can come together to work out their differences.

However, the success of the concept may also depend on the economy, which Slonaker admits has been rough on the business. Development and allegedly overburdensome county regulations haven't helped either, he says.

As Slonaker mentions, his Arby's was unique in that part of town a decade ago, but it had become just one of many fast food restaurants in the area.

"If I'm going to lose money," he says, "I might as well do it on my own terms."


Can I still get that delicious and healthy Arby's food at the A Patriot's Place?

I never gave that Arby's any business because they never seemed to be open when I wanted to get something.

I do admire Mr. Slonaker for wanting to bring people together to try and solve our problems. I hope that is contagious. Maybe I will give 'A Patriots Place' a try.

Tom Slonaker is my new hero. I am going to A Patriots Place next to,e I am in Cville. Thank GOd for people like him!

Col. Forbin;
Were you born a tool or were you trained up to be one?
Seriously though, "rules are rules" as a statement is of a piece with "it is what it is" and is a classic tautology. There is a plethora of arbitary, capricious, and unreasonable rules extant in this society. Passive acceptance is a guaranty they'll remain in place and be supplemented by more of the same. Pushback against rules which have tenuous, at best, connections to any true public good is our duty if we wish to be a people with any prospects for individual self determination.

Tom just follow the rules. Nut case!

It's funny how, now that the tea-baggers got their boy in office, we're all supposed to come together and hold hands and sing kumbaya.

I predict he'll be out of business in six months. You can't make money off the Tea Party crowd with their senior discounts and insistence on using coupons for every meal.


Who is being a tool here?

Tom Slonaker's problem is that he behaves as if EVERY rule he encounters is "arbitary, capricious, and unreasonable." That just ain't the case.

this man sells slop produced by agribusiness and calls it food
what a hero and patriot

...and thus begins the ultimate demise of the restaurant formerly known as Arby's of Forest Lakes. I imagine Mr. Slonaker discounts the business he derived from the Arby's brand. And a previous commenter is right - the far-right/tea baggers have co-opted the word "Patriot" and using that will DEFINITELY turn away a huge percentage of the potential clientele. But Slonaker has been turning people off for years, so now he'll be turning off Democrats and Independents as well as people who find his very public stances annoying.

I wonder what it'll become next? Too small to become an Antique Mall, I suppose.

I would like to see Lowes become an antique mall.

Can't we get a Home Depot in Charlottesville? Or is politics still involved heavily in that too?

Thanks so much for clearing up what exactly happened. I'd been wondering what had happened, since it was clearly not an Arby's anymore.

However, I'm not terribly impressed with the man. As a resident of Forest Lakes, I've encountered and heard so many negative stories about him. As other posters have already pointed out, he seems to be the type of person that believes rules shouldn't apply to HIM. He complains constantly about how his rights are supposedly being violated. And yet, he has absolutely NO respect for other people's rights. Notice that he refuses to move his vehicles out of the Food Lion parking lot, blocking visibly in that corner while ignoring that it is NOT his property? He's got his own parking lot, but seems to think it's better to use what belongs to others.

Freedom of speech protects all speech including those of libertarians in liberal communities. This gentleman is only doing what he believes to be right... and his buffalo chicken wrap is awesome.

I still wonder why people become "residents of Forest Lakes", and then whine about the business district a stone throw away from their back door. Can you explain this phenomenon to us please, Harostar?

And if we go back to the beginning of the local Slonaker Adventures, the nerve of that man placing signs advertising his specials meals and deals in the windows of his business. Didn't he realize or care that this was going to make Forest Lakes look like a ghetto?

By the way, has the county forced nTelos to remove their armored car out front advertsing their business yet? What a clever way to get around the sign ordinances in Albemarle County! HAHAHA! In other words, Slonaker has been singled out for harassment, IMHO.

I suspect Conservative was "educated" in a christian "school." I went to some pretty awful public schools, but the kids who transferred in from former segregation academies always struggled to catch up when they arrived. No surprise they are struggling still.

Re: the statement "Slonaker is a patriot, perrello is a communist." It is quite possible to be both a patriot and a communist, so without speaking to both attributes of both Mr. Slonaker and Mr. Perriello, the attempted comparison is meaningless. That's ignoring the fact that M. Perriello has nothing to do with local sign ordinances, but lets just take things slowly for the differently abled among us.

Branding political opponents as "Communists" or "Marxists," etc. is kind of cute in a childlike way, but rather than damaging the reputation of the one branded with that attempted slur, it in most cases merely reveals the phenomenal ignorance of the accuser. Wikipedia is a poor source of in depth information, but even a cursory scan of that poor source would do wonders for those who mistakenly see any politician whose name is known to them as a communist or "far-leftist."

Yes, there are communists, anarchists, or what-have-you of any radical political persuasion among us, but the two party system we have does not often put anything but the most middle of the road among them in any sort of position where they may be elected or even run for office under a major party banner. The more radical that do make it tend to be those like David Duke or Ralph Reed whose right wing radicalism has perhaps shifted the apparent center for those who know little of what exists of the whole range of political beliefs in this country.

Back to the matter at hand. I don't want any more of the ugliness of NOVA or Fredericksburg even infecting the county, but I'm not seeing the harm in putting banners in a window to advertise a special. Reasonable does not seem to be in the vocabulary of a lot of our local code enforcement officials.

@Bud: If the County stopped enforcing sign ordinances, you would quickly learn why they are necessary.

@Gasbag: Somebody somewhere must've just won a bet - another Hook thread has devolved into you crying about how The Man has tried to screw you or your family.

Red cars draw more speeding tickets than other cars. But you'd better not cry about harrassment in front of the judge if you get ticketed in your red car. Much better to drive the speed limit - ESPECIALLY if you're in a little red sports car.

Likewise your dad dodging property taxes in the manner that you describe is no different than a business owner getting around a sign ordinance by LEGALLY parking a highly visible vehicle in front of his or her store. Perhaps you'd prefer to see the sign ordinances amended to ban that as well?

He's a rebel cause he never ever does what he should!

I can see the appeal of Franchises; you have an established name to start your business with and a proven menu and business model. But franchise agreements tend to get more complicated, restrictive, and expensive as time goes on.

whatever happened to gasbag's father (as if that has anything to do with this story), let's not kid ourselves about this guy. The article states that it is not just county ordinances that he has trouble following, but also Arby's corporate rules.

So while this guy can pretend to be Braveheart crying "FREEEEEDOMMM!!!!!" right before the axe falls, to everyone else he seems like a whining malcontent.

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You have a bad habit of putting words into people's mouths, Gas-hole. Nobody whining here except you (on Slonaker's behalf).

FYI, advertising on vehicles is allowed, and I'm pretty sure the nTelos van is on their own property. I think Harostar's point was that Slonaker should park his vans on his own lot.

Maybe you should stick to ragging on "Cop Shops."

You ever think that maybe Food Lion allows him to park his vehicles in their lot? Or maybe they just don't care? After all, it's an awful big lot. It's funny, Albemarle County wants all the perks of trying to be like Northern Virginia, but none of the stuff that comes with them.

Scrambling, I'm pretty sure his flagpole and building windows were on his property, yet the county still bullied him into removing them.

Mr/Mrs/Miss Scrambling Ambler, which would you rather see out there, a big old ugly armored truck right at the edge of the traveled roadway, or a sign in Slonaker's window saying "5 Roast Beef for $5.00"?

I don't object to the armored truck being parked there, I object to it being used as nothing more than a real big sign.

Does Albemarle County single out people to harass? They sure do. Out of all the county residents who were doing the same thing my father did, Albemarle County singled out my father around 1979 or 1980 and charged him with tax evasive. He used to buy new cars and trucks every year when he was living. He would sell his cars and trucks the last in week in December, and purchase his new cars and trucks the first week in January. Therefore, he never had to pay personal property taxes on motor vehicles. While I do not recall thejudge's exact words right now, he basically told Albemarle County to never bring a case this silly and unfounded into his courtroom again! The judge obviously dismissed the case against my father. And he made Albemarle County pay all my father's attorney fees and damages.

Speed limits are for safety, right?. Who has ever been harmed by a giant sticker in the window of an Arby's? It's not like the place had burned out cars in the parking lot and appliances strewn in the grass.

It just seems to me that the government should have better things to do than complain about signage in restaurant windows. And if they don't have better things to do, it's a clear example that what we need is less government.

Wuzzy, the county "bullied him" into complying with the relevant ordinances in the same way that I was "bullied" into driving the speed limit on my way to work this morning. Please.

Slonaker is a patriot, perrello is a communist.

I went there and had the "Ben Franklin." It's a pretty tasty sandwich. Turkey's real (and thick), bread's good, not too heavy on the mayo, awesome bacon. Came with waffle fries.

I'd return.

Why is it so easy for someone who refused to comply with local laws that apply to us all, and who willfully violated his contract with the company that supplied him his business, to wrap himself in the flag of patriotism and get free promo puff press pieces in all the local papers? Isn't this a country in which we are governed by the rule-of-law, rather than the cult-of-personality? If I wanted to live in a place where those who thumb their noses at civil law are treated as heroes, I'd move to Iran. This guy is no kind of "good American" -- he's just a scofflaw and a cheat.

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Yes, and freedom of speech protects the rights of commies and liberals in right wing communities, or does it?

Sloanaker isn't a libertarian. he's a businessman who thinks that he should do what he wants, when he wants, as he wants. He's a libertine. Big difference.

He's as much a hypocrite as the Tea Partiers who scream about smaller government while they roll around in their medicare provided wheelchair, pay their bills with their Vet benefits, and collect their social security.

When you run an Arbys franchise you are subject to your contract with Arby...which includes no added menu items.

--edited by moderator

ya, keep deleting me moderator. we have a U.S. Attorney taking the fraud case on Tom Slonaker. just getting our ducks in a row. but just keep deleting justice you unpatriotic moderator. time will soon reveal the truth.

I went and had the terd-blossom fritatta, freedom fries and the "W" (all you can eat) Sunday. I am righteously full!

About "W": "We struggle to recover from the thoughtless carnage of his tenure."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,2030739,00.html#ixzz15M...

I stopped in for lunch yesterday. There were flags and small signs everywhere! (Small signs out front near the road advertising all his menu selections.) He's definitely making some sort of statement to the selective enforcement officials in Albemarle County. And By God, I say more power to him!

So then, GBSOE, your pop was the reason why they do those taxes pro-rata now!!

Not really. There were thousands of people doing the exact same thing. Out of all these people, I have no idea how Albemarle singled out my father for the "test case".

I think Albemarle had to then start pro-rating taxes so they could come up with some cash to pay my father's attorney bills and damages. :)

The local government does everything in it's power--and beyond--to ensure that this is the dullest and ugliest community possible.

Business-wise: the hostility towards anyone who attempts to run a business at all is unfathomable.

I am certain that Slonaker will not "loose" money. He may lose it, but at least he's doing what he wants to do.

@Marijean: Sorry for the typo near the end. Now fixed!--hawes the editor

@Hawes: If you're fixing errors, would you please correct "helped" in the first paragraph? Also, thanks for fixing "alot"! :-)

Thanks Hawes. You rock.

Just another guy who thinks the rules don't apply to him. Rules are rules.

Hawes, while you are fixing errors, anything you can do about Washington D.C.?

I wonder why he didn't bother to paint over the Arby's label scar. Am I the only one who thinks that was intentional?

That's a little nutty, but I generally like mom & pop type restaurants better than chains anyway.

Those Arbys in Short Pump seem much different and have different items than I've seen in other Arbys, wonder how they get away with it?

cookieJar, I laughed.

Good to see someone fight the rules, change doesn't happen without a change maker.

I hear that mr Slonaker is making "the restaurant formerly known as Arby's" a drive-in voting place. Sounds cool' like "American Graffiti" for angry non readers.

First off, thanks to the Hook for telling us what's going on. I've been wondering for a while what was up with the Arby's.

Secondly, I'm all for libertarian values. But come one. Can't we go have lunch without politics involved? It's on the news 24/7. You can't get away from campaign signs. And we have elections practically every year. Can't I just enjoy my roast beef?


The more people that participate in politics the more likely the politicians will listen to the people instead of their big money contributors. All the money in the world can't get them elected if a majority of people voice their will - at least that is my opinion.

Thanks to the tea party and the right wing, the word "Patriot" has become associated with far-right politics. I think moderates and lefties, even if they enjoy a good political debate, will steer clear from his place.

Selective enforcement? Perhaps. From what little I've read it seems to me what happened was that Sloanaker was warned that if he didn't fix his signs, park his ad vehicles in actual lined and legal parking spaces, get the proper permits, and whatever, he would be cited. He didn't fix his signs, so they came out to cite him... and since they had to do that anyway, they cited him for everything, the big and the small. After all, if the county is going to get into a legal fight, they may as well get it all out of the way at once, right? If other business owners are less argumentative and respond to warnings about highly visible violations in a timely way, the county probably doesn't waste the time and effort hassling them over the little stuff. So is that the same thing as selective enforcement?