GALVESTON — Sonny’s Place, known for hamburgers, clean language and a 1971 robbery that turned into a gunfight, has a new plaque in memory of Lawrence “Larry” Puccetti III, the owner’s son, who died in October.
The date was Oct. 22, 1971, when Sonny’s Place, a famous local restaurant that has been on the island since 1944, was accosted by three men who drew guns from brown paper bags and robbed the eatery and its 28 customers inside. The assailants quickly fled, however, when owner Lawrence “Junior” Puccetti II was handed a .38-caliber pistol by his son Larry and fired several shots at them, turning the peaceful family restaurant at 1206 19th St. into a scene resembling the O.K. Corral.
Junior Puccetti says it was a night he’ll never forget.
“I got all the bills out of the cash register and put it on the bar,” he said. “I walked from one side of the register to the other. The gunman slapped everything on the bar with his pistol.
“You know, peanuts, jars and things like that, and he hit them and when he came back the gun went off. The bullet got lodged into the bar.”
That accidental discharge provided an opportunity Junior and Larry needed to take advantage of the situation.
“I acted like I was hit and disappeared behind the bar,” he said. “Everyone thought I was dead. The women started crying. My son was about 15 years old, and he handed me a pistol. I wheeled around and fired a shot. I hit the beer spigot. It didn’t knock it off; I just dented it.”
The three men fled as Junior chased them outside and fired three more shots.
Despite the violent commotion, nobody was hurt.
Through the years, Doug McLeod, a loyal customer and close friend of Junior’s, has produced numerous plaques as a reminder of that frightful night. The plaques are on the bar near both the bullet hole and the dented beer spigot.
Junior says McLeod wanted the latest — and most elegant to date — plaque to be in remembrance of Larry.
“I really don’t know what would have happened had Larry not been there,” Junior said. “I think they would have just completed the robbery.
“He first thought the guy was trying to sell me a gun, because he had the paper brown bag and people have tried selling me stuff before.
“Larry probably wouldn’t have done anything until the shot went off.”
It has been 43 years since the altercation, and Junior says he and his family have befriended a significant portion of the locals who come to his establishment and enjoys sharing the engaging story with newcomers.
“We have had some good times with UTMB people,” Junior said. “In the 90s, some of the doctors in Austin — because of the good times they’ve had here — named a scholarship at UTMB in my name. When Larry died, a lot of people donated to that in his name, in his memory. We were really surprised when they did that.”
Sonny’s is also known for its “No foul language” policy under which violators are asked to leave.
“People bring their kids and they’re welcome; we love them, and we don’t want to have someone sitting next to them and using foul language,” Junior said.
Recalling the night of the shooting, Junior says he is just happy nobody was injured.
“We were so happy that the score was nothing to nothing. Everyone just drank a lot of beer after that.”