When I reported that a controversial pastor would be moving into my coverage area, I thought that would be mainly quiet after he settled.
Rev. Terry Jones earned international notoriety for burning the Quran along with his views about Islam. He lived in a rural town in Polk County, Fla., and then a Central Florida news outlet mentioned in passing he would be moving to Manatee County.
[Forgive the difference in spelling of Koran and Quran in the clips. The editors and copy desk were battling over style preferences.]
I checked property records and found that yes, he is in the community.
Two years later, my business editor received a call from a reader saying Jones had opened a place in the DeSoto Square mall food court.
It was the most bizarre news tip I ever received. I checked it out and there he was.
When local outlets cover a story I broke first, I typically get miffed. But it was quite an honor to see Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anne Hull write her version for The Washington Post. It’s the tone that I would have wanted to write but knew it wasn’t write for a local audience. Her style is perfect for a national view.
After my story ran, I actually received more complaints about one of his other businesses I didn’t know about—furniture moving.
JANUARY 9, 2015
Florida pastor on al-Qaida hit list opens french fry stand at Bradenton’s DeSoto Square mall
MANATEE — The Florida pastor who is near the top of an al-Qaida hit list is now running a french fry stand at a Bradenton mall.
The Rev. Terry Jones has opened Fry Guys Gourmet Fries in the food court at DeSoto Square mall. When customers arrive at the counter, they see a drawing of Jones’ stern face front and center in what looks like a police sketch beside pictures of the other two co-owners. Their slogan: “We Take Fries Seriously.”
“At first I thought the pictures would not be so recognizable,” Jones told the Bradenton Herald in a phone
interview Thursday. “They were supposed to be more of a cartoon type of thing.”
The mall’s manager was not aware of Jones’ associations until contacted by the Herald for this story, and he immediately contacted the minister with his concerns. Just the sight of Jones’ face could stir outrage.
Jones said he agreed to take the drawing of his face off the wall, but his face will remain on the company’s logo and his name will remain on the paperwork.
“This is our first restaurant and we plan on being a chain,” Jones said. “Right now we just agreed to take down the three pictures.”
Mall manager Robert Tackett said he was “shocked” by Jones’ background, adding that the Jones family appeared to be “very nice people” to work with when they signed the lease.
“There was not any indication of trouble whatsoever,” Tackett said.
Tackett said the parent company, Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty, has no problem with Jones operating his business. Mason Asset owner Elliot Nassim did not return a message requesting comment.
Tackett, who served six years in the military, acknowledged this is a delicate issue balancing free speech while protecting DeSoto Square mall’s image given what he now knows about the co-owner.
“People have an opportunity to do business in America because we are a free country,” Tackett said. “He has not caused any problems or concerns. In fact, this is the first time I’ve heard any of this.”
Jones moved with his church, Dove World Outreach Center, to Waterline Road in East Manatee in August 2013, about a month before his Sept. 11 plan to burn the Quran in Mulberry. Jones was arrested by Polk County deputies before the event occurred for unlawful carry of a firearm and unlawful conveyance of fuel. His congregation had burned a Quran at a previous event in 2011 despite a request by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to cancel the event.
Jones is No. 2 on an al-Qaida propaganda poster for being wanted dead or alive. Slain French editor Stephane Charbonnier of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was also on that list. That poster circulated on Twitter this week with an X on Charbonnier’s face after he was murdered Wednesday in an attack that killed at least 12 at the Paris office. The terrorist group targeted the cartoonist after he published a satirical cartoon of prophet Muhammad in 2011.
Having Jones as a terrorist target operating a business in a mall could be cause for concern. Tackett said a member of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office intelligence unit contacted him Thursday and assured him there weren’t any security threats to the mall because of Jones’ business.
Dave Bristow, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, declined comment about the sheriff’s office intelligence on Jones and any threat to the mall.
“We’re aware of Mr. Jones being in Manatee County, but were not aware of his restaurant in the mall you mentioned,” Bristow told the Herald.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not return calls for comment by end of day Thursday.
Views on Islam
The events in France, said Jones, reinforce his beliefs against Islam. He said he does not group all Muslims with radical Islam.
“I will continue to speak out against Islam or even if you want to define it as radical Islam,” Jones said. “I’m not putting everyone in the same box, but Islam itself is a very oppressive religion.”
Samir Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, said everyone has a right to free speech and to start a business. He doesn’t have a problem with the french fry stand “as long as he’s not doing something stupid to invite trouble,” Khatib said.
Khatib said he hopes Jones would stop burning the Quran because the holy book mentions Jesus about 100 times compared to the four for Muhammad, while Abraham and Moses outpace the references to Jesus.
“To me, it’s insulting to society because he’s insulting the intelligence of the people by his actions,” Khatib said.
Jones added that freedom of speech comes with a price.
“If it doesn’t happen to be what certain people like, they will crucify you and try to put you out of business,” Jones added.
Statements aside, Jones said he has had an uptick in threats since the al-Qaida poster reappeared.
“We’ve always been concerned. I have about 400 to 500 death threats, and there’s an award for my life for $6.5 million,” Jones said. He has contacted the FBI as well as local police to request additional protection.
“I don’t know if we may get extra protection from them,” he said. “They do patrol, on a semi-regular basis, my house.”
The pastor incorporated his fry business in November, according to records filed with the state, and includes wife Sylvia Jones, Kevin Jones and Wayne Sapp on the business records. Jones thought that and his face would be enough to let the mall know who he was.
“When I went in there and made contact, I assumed he knew who I was,” Jones said of the mall’s manager.
Saying he wished he had done more research before signing a lease, Tackett said if he would have known at the time, he would have asked how Fry Guys would have been marketed. Fry Guys has been doing well and paying their rent, Tackett acknowledged, and helped make the food court 100 percent leased.
Two other locally owned businesses will open there soon. DeSoto Cheese Steak Factory will replace the Charley’s Grilled Subs spot, and Hot Rod Cafe is remodeling the former McDonald’s space, he said.
The fry stand was actually the idea of the pastor’s brother, Kevin Jones. The key to making it a go is a $5,600 ventless fryer that doesn’t require a hood, Jones said. A regular batch of fries can take four minutes to cook, he added, and the restaurant doesn’t charge extra for its dozen toppings.
“I thought it was a unique idea and it sort of seems to be an up-and-coming trend,” Jones said, with a desire to add locations. Jones agreed to work with Tackett to keep the business open. And both Tackett and Jones said they have received only positive responses from customers and mall employees.
Jones said he will not go into hiding, but will remove his face from the sign.
“We’re not fearful, and we’re not going to run and hide,” Jones said. “If they (terrorists) come, we’re going to try to get them before they get us.”
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.