Shanga Hankerson, the son of singer Gladys Knight, is set to open a new restaurant in January in Landover, the latest location for his Atlanta-based restaurant chain, Gladys Knight and Ron Winans's Chicken and Waffles.
He is the third celebrity in recent months to announce plans to open a business or develop property in Prince George's County. County officials have said star-studded investments like Hankerson's will draw the kind of national attention needed to woo more retailers to the county.
The other famous investors are Kwame Jackson, the Harvard MBA featured last year in Donald Trump's TV show "The Apprentice," who is a partner in a 500-acre commercial and residential development in Upper Marlboro scheduled to break ground in 2006; and basketball star-turned-businessman Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who opened his 12-screen Loews Cineplex movie theater in Landover last week.
Hankerson said he was drawn to Prince George's by the same demographics that attracted Johnson and Jackson -- the county's population is 63 percent African American and its median household income is about $60,000.
In an interview this month with Washington Post staff writer Krissah Williams, Hankerson explained his decision to come to Prince George's and his plans for the restaurant named for his mother and Winans, a gospel singer. The restaurant is under construction at the Boulevard at the Capital Center.
Q: How did Gladys Knight and Ron Winans's Chicken and Waffles get started?
A: I opened my first Atlanta restaurant at [age] 19 in 1998 with a loan from my dad. We were doing so well that I opened a second restaurant in 1999, also in Atlanta.
It is a family affair. I approached my mom, Ron [Winans] and my partner and executive chef Reginald Washington with the idea some years back, and they were like, "Let's do it." I grew up with Ron. My dad managed the [gospel singing group] the Winans for many years, and we would all hang out on the road.
I love to cook. My mom would cook for us all the time. So when we started the restaurant, we had to get her approval on a lot of things. On opening day of the first restaurant in Atlanta, she was in the kitchen with us cooking smothered chicken. . . . It really is something we've done together. My mom and Ron are both really hands-on. They call me to see how things are going.
What is the restaurant concept?
The chicken and waffle concept is old. It began in the '30s in New York, specifically in Wells Restaurant in Harlem. It basically came about with the musicians coming out of their sets at 3 and 4 a.m. They hadn't had dinner and hadn't had breakfast. So they ordered [a combination of both]: chicken and waffles. That's how the concept came about.
What made you decide to open your restaurant in Prince George's?
I met Prince George's County resident [and event promoter] Felix Donnell in 1998. He was in Atlanta doing some promoting. He showed me an article saying that Prince George's is the most affluent predominantly African American county in the country. I used that as an excuse to go visit. We just went driving around. It was year-long process. . . .
I didn't have anything to compare it to. When I got there, all I could see was that it was bustling. I was really able to see a vision there. After I did my rigid critique, interviews, demographics , it was a no-brainer. We [African Americans] are out there with money, and we are not really fully serviced. [At the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Landover] you've got Pier 1 and other higher-end stores. It really wasn't that hard of a decision to locate there.
What are your financial expectations for the restaurant in Landover?
I expect it to do very well. I did a lot of research and there is a place in the market for what we bring. We have a lot of live entertainment, jazz and other music. We have an extensive menu that you can get around the clock. In Atlanta we are open weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. We plan to have the same hours in Prince George's.
The restaurant is currently under construction. We will have 250 to 275 seats indoors, a patio with 30 seats, a private room and movie screen. I also plan to have [Sony] PlayStation tournaments and a conference room for business meetings. We want to keep it family-friendly and also bring something for the night life. You can go over to the Magic Johnson Theater and catch a flick and come over to our place and eat dinner.