Gladys Knight’s divorce from her ex-husband record manager Barry Hankerson devastated their son, Shanga, she said in her memoir. At 11 years old, he weighed 320 pounds. Knight may have believed he’d recovered from that childhood trauma, but years later, Hankerson is accused of running the restaurants that carry his mother’s name into financial ruin, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles four Atlanta area restaurant locations have reopened but are now under state receivership.
Fans now wait in hour-long lines at its spot on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta for a taste of the Midnight Train: Four jumbo chicken wings on a golden waffle.
But the outward success of a famous family business unraveled when state revenue agents raided and closed the restaurant chain last month, arrested Hankerson on theft counts, and filed civil racketeering charges against him, alleging more than $1 million in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties. All three locations have since reopened under state receivership.
Now, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned damaging new details about how Hankerson spent the company’s money and treated his employees.
Hankerson siphoned money from his business’s three locations to finance a voracious marijuana habit and sex parties, witnesses have told investigators.
The spending exacted a heavy toll on employees who were shorted on their pay after working under grueling and sometimes unsafe conditions. Managers dug into their own pockets just to keep the restaurant’s doors open for the day, public records and interviews with a dozen former employees and business associates confirmed.
In one case, a general manager — one of Hankerson’s childhood friends — put some $12,000 on his credit card to keep the company’s employee health insurance coverage from lapsing, former employees said.
On paper, the company was making $8 million in annual sales, but years of chaos at the Atlanta institution had pushed it to the brink of collapse. Funds were so scarce that managers rushed to cash employees’ bounced paychecks with money from the downtown restaurant’s safe before Hankerson’s representatives arrived to retrieve it, they said.
“I think he was just in it for the money in the end,” said Charles Preston, 63, who worked as a manager at the downtown location for eight years until he quit in April.
Hankerson declined comment through Steve Sadow, one of his attorneys. Gladys Knight did not respond to requests for comment placed through a representative.