Oct. 05--Thirty years ago this week, Hooters opened its doors at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Hampton Road and started a revolution in American dining by merging chicken wings and beer with a casual atmosphere and no small amount of sex appeal.
Today, the Hooters brand extends to more than 425 restaurants in 28 countries, including a Las Vegas casino.
On Oct. 4, 1983, though, the "breastaurant" with the naughty name in a shabby wooden shack was far from an immediate hit.
"It was empty," founder Ed Droste said of that first day. "Two plumbers and one carpenter. Three guys."
To make the place look a little more full, Droste and the five other founders -- L.D. Stewart, Dennis Johnson, William "Uncle Billy" Ranieri, Gil DiGiannantonio and Ken Wimmer -- held a birthday party for a friend.
"We figured at least we'd be full one day," Droste said. "We didn't know we'd be in business 30 minutes, let alone 30 years."
Some of the restaurant chain's founders held a birthday party at the original restaurant Friday to celebrate the milestone. Missing from the gathering: Ranieri, the retired service station owner who became a restaurant millionaire. He died on Sept. 12 in Chicago at age 92.
"He was our age when Hooters opened," Droste said. "That's been driven home to us. What was said at his wonderful ceremony was that this brand kept him lively. It keeps you young, whether you're working in or around it."
Droste, along with co-founder Johnson and Hooters CEO Neil Kiefer, sat down recently at the original location to reminisce about the early days. They sold the rights to the Hooters name in 2001 to a group that formed Hooters of America and expanded the brand overseas. But the original founders still operate almost 30 stores in Florida, Chicago and New York.
The Clearwater restaurant was rebuilt and refurbished in 2012. The floors and tables are shiny. There is tasteful landscaping, high-definition flat-screen TVs everywhere and a large bar for customers. The kitchen is equipped with the latest cooking appliances. All that remains of the original is a small corner over by a southern window.
But the memories are still there.
Johnson: I've known Ed for a long time. We're from the same place in Iowa. We became business partners in '83.
Droste: We used to fight over the same girls in Waverly, Iowa. Back then, it was a town of about 6,500. We went to the same high school together.
Johnson: I came down (to Florida) in '83 to paint condos. I was a bricklayer up North. Ed had a guy working for him who had a painting company I went to work for.
Droste: I had a 2.3 grade point average (at Iowa State), so I only got one job offer. I came down one day after graduation and started to work for U.S. Home Corp. in 1973.
Kiefer: I grew up in Pittsburgh. I came down here the same year Ed did, in 1973. I started out as a high school coach and PE teacher because I had about a 2.1 average. I met Ed in my second year through a mutual friend I coached with who was a friend of theirs from high school. Ed and I met at a football game we were coaching at. He was working for a property management company for U.S. Home. Then I left, went to New York, and came back in 1979 after law school at Hofstra University.
Droste: (Hooters) was one of his first clients, which really looked good on his resume.
Droste left U.S. Home and started a company that refurbished buildings across Florida.
Droste: We'd catch various places and bars around Florida as we were working. Wally Morris, who was a manager for my company on the east coast, said, "You've got to get over here to Fort Lauderdale and check out (a restaurant with) these chicken wings." Chicken wings weren't being sold anywhere. That started a bunch of us guys saying that we should open a joint that we couldn't get kicked out of.
Neil (Kiefer) was the catalyst on the business and legal side of it. We had one gentleman, L.D. Stewart, who is still around. He was the bull in the china shop. He said, "Let's go do it and qu