Hooters founders go creative with branding

By Mark Albright, Times Staff writer
Published June 17, 2007

After feuding in court with their Atlanta-based franchisor Hooters of America, the chain's Clearwater founders in 1997 accepted $60-million for the rights to many uses of the Hooters brand.

But they kept some lucrative ones for themselves.

Some or all the founders have the rights to develop casinos, publish Hooters Girl calenders ($5.5-million worth this year) and wholesale Hooters foods to grocers. As owners of 22 Hooters restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, Chicago and Manhattan, they also make deals as restaurant operators.

The four remaining founders - Ed Droste, 55; Dennis Johnson, 56, Gil DiGiannantonio, 58, and Bill Ranieri, 86 - split up the work.

The pitches arrive daily. Most frequently turned down: a Hooters cruise ship, reality TV shows with Hooters Girls and sports deals like South Florida Hooter's franchisee Dave Lagschulte's with the defunct Miami Hooters Arena Football League team.

The founders are re-shaping their Hooters ventures. The $15-million-a-year frozen food and wing sauce business will add hot sauce. There are talks with a network TV production company to air Hooters Girl swimsuit pageants. Pete & Shorty's, a decade-old Clearwater tavern with bar food, is close enough to $1-million in annual sales that they plan to start selling franchises this year.

Then there's Hooters: The Movie. The founders spent $1-million on a screenplay they have coaxed Hollywood studios to produce.

The idea seizes on Hooters iconic role to Hollywood filmmakers who celebrate the sophomoric.

It's well-trod ground. Satirized by The Simpsons and South Park, Hooters restaurants were rented for scenes in Adam Sandler's Big Daddy, NBC's The Office and a deleted scene from the first Austin Powers film. Hooters also got mentions in Tank Girl, Old School, Shrek the Third and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.

The full-length Hooters film would be a fictional version of the founders' own story.

"It's sort of Dumb and Dumber meets American Pie, " said Ed Kiefer, chief executive of Hooters LLC.