Back in 1992, Randy Burleson was racking his brain, trying to figure out what to do about his new restaurant in Farragut. Aubrey’s had a great menu, had worked out the kinks in service and had a good location in an area that reportedly had a good crowd of people who liked restaurant dining.

The restaurant, however, had gotten off to a rocky start, and, six months in, was not doing well. Burleson, then 25 years old, had everything riding on this venture.

Burleson went back to his core convictions that day and found a solution that melded his beliefs in the value of education and the importance of giving back to the community.

“We put a coupon in the School Coupon book for Buy One Entrée, get the second for 40 percent off,” he remembers.

“I know exactly when the turning point was that business went from so bad to being so good,” he says. “It was the Knox County Schools coupon book. It gave people a reason to find Aubrey’s in Farragut, a reason to come back. We had worked out most of the problems. The food was good, the service was getting better, and the coupon got people into Aubrey’s. The Knox County Schools coupon book saved Aubrey’s.”

The calendars for the nine Aubrey’s restaurants Burleson now has in Knox and surrounding counties show his gratitude and continue to reflect the restaurant family’s philosophy of giving back to the community.

Take the Saturday morning Pancake Breakfast calendar, for example. School and community groups who need funds can schedule a fundraising breakfast at their neighborhood Aubrey’s. A menu of pancakes, eggs, bacon, orange juice, milk, coffee, teas and sodas is offered free of charge, so the organizing group can sell tickets and have a clear profit on the breakfast. Aubrey’s provides all the food and drink, kitchen staff and a few other personnel to help facilitate. The organization does the advertising, sells the tickets (usually for $5 or $10) and does the serving and busing of tables.

The calendar for 2017 has been full at all the Aubrey’s for months. Reservations for 2018 will begin in January, and they always fill up.

“Randy likes to help groups that don’t have a lot of other options when it comes to funding,” says Theresa McManus, who works in the Aubrey’s office. “And he always tries to help any school or educational groups. That is his focus.”

The commitment to education goes beyond the School Coupon Books for Burleson. He believes in the unifying power of a community, and schools are a focal point for community pride. “My Aunt Carrie and Uncle Kenny Cheatham taught me that education is the only thing that changes the quality of life in an area,” he said.

In addition to the Pancake Breakfast fundraisers, Aubrey’s restaurants also provide a Meals for Teachers and Staff program (information is on the website at www.aubreysrestaurants.com) and feeds sports teams at most of the schools in the neighborhoods that have an Aubrey’s restaurant. There are also hundreds of donations each year to local charities, universities, leadership and arts organizations through the now infamous Dinner for Two certificates that Burleson donates for silent auctions. He also tries, when scheduling allows, to provide food for fundraising events.

More often than not, Burleson himself will be on hand at those major fundraising events, especially if they support education. Don’t look for him in a tux working the crowd, however.

He’ll be in the kitchen, behind the buffet line or busing tables, proving with his actions as well as his donations that serving the community runs deep in the Aubrey’s family.

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Written by Sherri Gardner Howell