Hooters was appropriately incorporated on April Fool’s Day, 1983, when six businessmen with absolutely no previous restaurant experience got together and decided to open a place they couldn’t get kicked out of. Soon after, on October 4th of that year, the doors to the first Hooters Restaurant opened in Clearwater, Florida. The now famous “Hooters Six” were: L.D. Stewart, a painting contractor; Gil DiGiannantonio, a liquor salesman; “Uncle Billy” Ranieri, a retired service station owner; Ed Droste, a real estate executive; Dennis Johnson, a brick mason by trade; and Ken Wimmer, a partner in the painting business with L.D. Strange group.
Out of their fertile imaginations – and more R & R than R & D – came the concept of Hooters. The restaurant would combine their favorite manly finger foods with the 50’s and 60’s music they felt best exemplified a happy, nostalgic time in most Americans’ memories. Then came the wood. Lots of wood. Walls, floors, tables, bars-Denny & L.D. put it everywhere, choosing T1-11 as the exterior of choice because it was the cheapest.
The irreverent sense of humor started with the creative menu saga written by Ken. It combined nicely with the most important element, the beautiful and vivacious Hooters Girls. The name “Hooters” came from a popular comedy sketch by one of the nation’s hottest comedians of that time, Steve Martin.(The Christmas tree lights only came to be a part of the concept because everyone was just too lazy to take them down after that first Christmas – Hey, it’s not my job!) And, of course, we can’t forget the great food.
The first Hooters Girl, Lynne Austin, was hired on a bet. One fine day in sunny Florida, one of the Hooters Six anchored his boat off Clearwater Beach to swim in and catch the Jose Cuervo bikini contest. That would be Droste, who bet the gang on the boat that he could entice the winner of the contest to become the first Hooters Girl. He bravely paddled into shore. After failing to convince the subsequent winner (L.A.) to join the troop right then and there, Droste dug a business card out of a rolled up plastic bag (a wet card would have been be tacky). He told her that if her job as a GTE telephone operator didn’t work out, she should call them. Weeks later, Lynne tried to get off work at GTE to attend yet another bikini contest. She quit the job when they refused. The next day, she called Ed to join the Hooters team. The Hooters Girl was already evolving in the face of another phenomenon: Ed’s beautiful secretary, Loretta, an avid jogger, spotted several times in shorts. Finding Lynne only accentuated their resolve to follow this “girl in jogging shorts” idea.
All hands were on deck as the first Hooters began to take shape. L.D.’s wife, Juanita, sketched at a logo. Ed’s (then) wife, Pam, found a little dive in Clearwater and negotiated the lease with landlord Jim Burns which is still in place 16 years later (witnesses swear two cockroaches emerged from the surroundings to cosign at the closing). While Ed arranged the photo shoot for Hooters’ first billboard, Gil indoctrinated Lynne by making her clean out the refrigerator and scrub the floors. Construction (more like destruction) went fast and, in just months, it was time to open. Appropriately, Denny and Ed put tombstones inside white picket fencing out front that bore the name of all the businesses that had failed in that location. With Gil on the floor and Un- cle Billy at the door, everything was a go…except the fryers. Don’t they have to be lit to cook wings? Call Chicken Unlimited, they gotta know!
And the food was good.
Although fun, once opened, the pressure to succeed was intense (two of the Hooters Six were Italian). So Droste, the marketing guy, donned a chicken suit and stood in traffic waving people in the door (many still consider the costume a great improvement in his wardrobe). Shortly after the trick in the costume (and a little event known as Super Bowl), the little joint’s fame began to spread. Now you know which came first, the chicken or the Super Bowl. They had a hunch, but little did the Hooters Six knew how much the public yearned for a fun, casual alternative to the existing fern bars and fine dining establishments. Hooters was to become an oasis.
An oasis with great food.