Why do they call it that? Hooters original restaurant in Clearwater

10:30 AM, May 16, 2012   |    comments
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All month long, we're looking at restaurants that got their start in Tampa Bay. When six guys in Clearwater called their place Hooters, did it mean -- you know -- what you think it means?

Why do they call it Hooters?

"Every guy dreams when you're traveling to open a joint. And ours was to open a joint we couldn't get kicked out of," Ed Droste said.

So nearly 30 years ago, Droste and five other businessmen -- none with restaurant experience -- bought a building along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater.

"We were certainly crazy," Droste admitted. "Nothing had ever succeeded in this place. Nothing. And that was kind of a challenge to us -- especially when everyone reminded us of that."

They cooked up success from scratch, learning on the fly. Here's their recipe for a restaurant chain that now has around 450 restaurants.

First ingredient: one pound, chicken wings. "Wings were things other people threw away. They were 20, 30 cents a pound," Droste said.

Then add equal parts neighborhood bar and island grill. "No one had ever done that," Droste explained.

Stir, then serve promptly with a side of... ladies. "Put the famous Hooters Girls on the floor. And that kind of brought the edgy-meets-neighborhood joint. And I think that was part of the success," Droste said.

Photo Gallery: 2012 Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant

Oh -- you want me to define success? Okay. "In a year, 60 million customers will go through a Hooters door," Droste said.

The original location on Gulf-to-Bay served as the model for all the rest.

Over the years, the original restaurant in Clearwater has been remodeled. But they've kept the wooden bar and reused it to build other counters.

And in the new, expanded space, they've built a gift shop and a museum to chronicle the history of Hooters.

In the museum area, Droste pointed to a mannequin wearing a white t-shirt and brown shorts.

"What we have here is the original Hooters outfit that actually lasted for about two or three weeks and then evolved to the traditional, iconic Hooters girl outfit that is in 450 restaurants around the world," he said.

Behind the mannequin stands a bright yellow chicken suit. "That, actually is -- you would probably call it my costume," Droste said.

"Out of desperation, with no customers, I donned that and went out in traffic and nearly got hit three or four times, but actually waved a few folks in."

The name Hooters -- one that stretches across chests all over America -- came from a stroke of inspiration.

From hooo? Comedian Steve Martin. The chain's founders had seen a routine of his a lot like this one, where Martin delivers a monologue -- Patton-style -- in front of a giant American flag.

"I believe it's derogatory to refer to a woman's breasts as boobs, jugs, Winnebagos, or golden bozos," Martin proclaimed. "You should only refer to them as hooters."

Aha! So, the word Hooters on the shirt does refer to... you know... what's underneath... right?

"There is a reference or a connotation that some will make. We don't push it. We don't deny it," Droste said.

"For those that get a kick out of a little tongue-in-cheek, they go with it. But we try not to push it in anyone's face, so to speak."

Yeah -- so to speak.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Next week, we'll wrap up our look at restaurants born in Tampa Bay. And next week's story is a stunner.

We'll take you into one of the most well-known restaurant chains in the world. And we bet you have no idea that the very first one was right here in our community.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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